How to Identify, Treat and Prevent Student Burnout
Carbon Health Editorial Team
September 7, 2022
From the very first day of school to graduation, it’s drilled into students' heads that rigorous studying leads to better grades and academic success. Research certainly supports this: a study by Stanford University showed that students achieve on average 1/3rd higher of a letter grade with effective study habits.
Key word being: effective! This article explains ways you can improve your studying.
But effective study practices aren't just about how you study. It’s also about making sure you have a healthy work-life balance when it comes to your study habits. Taking care of your mental health is foundational to good studying habits and general well-being.
Whether in college or high school, it’s very common for ambitious students to dive head-first into the books come exam season, to the extent they might feel they’re drowning in materials. But this often leads to student or academic burnout, and burnout is no good. Not for your grades, and certainly not for your health!
What’s student burnout?
Burnout is very common among students, and it can lead to serious issues, both in your academic performance and your personal life. Too much stress leads to emotional exhaustion, which can harm your mental health, damage your personal relationships, and even lead to health complications.
If you find yourself feeling exhausted, irritable, or constantly overwhelmed when studying, you’re likely experiencing burnout. Below, you’ll find some strategies and tips for managing and recovering from burnout, so you can be a happier, healthier student and reach your full potential.
The college experience must not be a draining one. College burnout tends to be more common, particularly in medical students, but you can identify common causes to prevent and control this condition.
What causes burnout?
Everyone is different, and everyone has different tolerance levels for stress. What burns out one person may simply energize another. Your cause of burnout may not be the same as your classmates’, but that doesn’t make your feelings less valid. Listed below are some of the common causes of burnout students often experience.
Too much on your plate - The most immediate, and most common, cause of burnout is simply being overloaded. Studying for multiple exams on top of working a part time job, playing sports, spending time with friends, and doing chores at home will leave anyone exhausted. Regardless of what you do, if you pile too much on your plate, then burnout is inevitable.
Hyperfocus - Many ambitious students find themselves singularly focused on a single goal. Whether this is practicing for a sport or achieving the highest grade possible, it’s easy to obsess over something you’re passionate about. But if you do this at the expense of your hygiene, your health, or your personal relationships, you’ll likely experience burnout. Make sure to balance your time between all parts of your life!
Stress in your personal life - Burnout doesn’t always come from work or studying. If you have frayed relationships, financial stressors or a troubled home life, this can seep into your academics and leave you feeling unmotivated. It’s important to talk to a qualified health professional like a therapist if you find yourself unable to cope with a stressful personal life.
Symptoms of Burnout
What does burnout look like? What are the signs of burnout? It’s normal to experience stress, especially in high-stakes academic situations like exam season or prepping a group presentation. But if you begin to experience some of the symptoms and issues listed below, you may be experiencing chronic stress or burnout. Don’t let burnout tear down the progress you’ve made.
Irritability - Are you developing a short fuse or finding yourself with less and less patience? This could be a sign of burnout! Don’t let your stress hurt your relationship with friends or family. If you’re feeling irritable, it’s time for a break.
Chronic Exhaustion - It’s normal to feel a bit tired after a bout of studying, but if you’re never quite feeling rested, it may be time to cut back on your efforts. Feeling exhausted come exam time will only hurt your grades.
Lack of Motivation - Perhaps you’re just losing your motivation to do anything. Your creative bank is drained, your mind empty. Burnout has a way of draining your mental willpower to carry out tasks.
Missing Deadlines - If you just can’t motivate yourself to stop procrastinating so you can hit deadlines, this might be a sign of burnout. Students who are feeling overwhelmed often struggle to find the energy to complete tasks on schedule.
Poor health - Sore limbs, stomach pains, headaches, frequent illness - all of these health issues can be aggravated by the stress of burnout.
Adjust your routine - If you’re constantly burning out, that’s a sign your daily routine isn’t working for you. Take some time to reconfigure your lifestyle. Your health is paramount, and neglecting it won’t help you achieve your goals.
How to deal with burnout
Frankly, as much as we might try to keep ourselves from experiencing stress and burnout, it happens to all of us once in a while. While the best way to treat burnout is to prevent it, sometimes a busy schedule means it’s inevitable.
Watch for warning signs - Sometimes people get so focused on a task they don’t even notice their burnout. Be sure to consider how you’re feeling. Make a mental checklist that you can run through periodically. Have you eaten a balanced meal? Have you taken a break every two hours? Are you feeling tired or unwell? Keep tabs on your status so you can take a break when you feel burnout creeping.
Spice it up - A bit of fun can make the grind less draining. Some music brightens the mood, though you should keep it to instrumentals to help focus. Putting some jokes and references in your notes and materials can help you stay a little entertained. Just make sure not to put any in your essay!
Reach out - Remember, your grades are never worth your health and safety. If you find yourself overwhelmed, it’s always okay to ask for help. Reach out to a therapist, a teacher, a parent, a trusted friend. Talking things through can do wonders. Don’t forget that qualified medical professionals can help you work through your stressors and develop strategies to cope with them.
While there are ways to manage feeling burnt out, it’s always better to prevent burnout to begin with. This’ll keep you healthier, more productive, and above all, happier!
Below, you’ll find some helpful tips and tricks for keeping yourself from feeling overwhelmed and decrease your stress levels:
Talk About Your Feelings - One of the worst things you can do is bottle up your feelings. Taking a moment to talk with a trusted friend or adult allows you to work through what’s bothering you. Often a conversation can help put you at ease, or discover strategies to better cope. Sometimes you might realize solutions to your problems! Your college or school may have student support groups. Reach out to your administration for more information.
Set a Routine - Having a set routine will make balancing your time commitment so much easier. If you know each day after school that you’ll relax for an hour, study till dinner, then go out with friends, you’ll be better able to manage expectations and fulfill your goals.
Practice A Hobby - If your entire life revolves around academics, you’re gonna get sick of it real fast! Cultivating a hobby will give you opportunities to unwind and relax. Maybe you like to write, or play baseball, or garden. A hobby or two will do wonders for keeping you sane.
Spend Time in Nature - A brisk walk through a trail, a half hour getting fresh air on your apartment balcony; wherever you are, a bit of nature does wonders for refreshing the soul. Stepping away from your phone and laptop gives you time to be at peace with yourself.
Socialize - Your social life is important for stress management. Spending time away from your desk and with friends or family is a great way to relieve some stress. You don’t need to stop studying for this either - consider forming a study group of friends! Not only can you share notes, but conversation will keep things light and fun. Always include social activities in your routine.
Set S-M-A-R-T Goals - S.M.A.R.T goals are a mantra behind producing goals that are reasonable, effective, and accomplishable. Many experts in the field of academics encourage students to adhere to the principles of S.M.A.R.T goals:
•Specific - Be direct and simple as to what you hope to
accomplish. The more clear your goal, the easier it is to achieve.
•Measurable - Create goals that can be tangibly measured. For
example, working X many hours, or writing Y many words.
•Achievable - Setting goals you can’t hope to achieve will only
demoralize you. Be realistic, and you’ll find yourself meeting more
of your goals.
•Relevant - Keep your goals oriented around your work and what
stage the work is at. If you have a big presentation coming up, you
should focus on reading and research first, not on what you’ll wear!
•Time-Bound - Make sure your goals have a deadline! It’s easy to
keep pace with your responsibilities if you hold yourself to specific
Don’t Procrastinate - If there’s one thing that ups the stress factor, it’s a looming deadline! Avoid procrastination, completing your schoolwork ahead of time will give you greater peace of mind. Equally important among high-school and college students, time management is crucial to prevent burnout.
Get good rest - A good night’s sleep is indispensable for academic success. But rest isn’t just about sleeping. Make sure to take time to relax your eyes and brain, give it a moment to recover. Take a walk, lay on the couch listening to music. Try to limit time spent on high-focus activities like video games or sports if you’re already feeling burned out. They might only leave you feeling more exhausted.
Achieve a good work-life balance - Work-life balances aren’t just for adults with careers. Studying and completing school assignments is work too, and if you put too much energy into that, it’ll come at the expense of your personal life. Don’t be afraid to take some time to yourself to visit with friends or just relax at home. Like many things in life, moderation is key!
Healthy Habits - As mentioned before, a good night’s rest is great for your health, but don’t neglect other areas! Drink plenty of water. Avoid excessive caffeine consumption - you might see temporary relief, but eventually you’ll crash and feel lethargic and tired. Be sure to eat healthy, balanced meals. It’s difficult to focus when you’re feeling malnourished or are vitamin deficient.
Virtually every student will experience burnout at some point in their lives, some more than others. Burnout can be frustrating and disruptive to your academic career, but you can persevere by following tips and strategies like this listed above.