Burnout is “a state of emotional, mental, and often physical exhaustion brought on by prolonged or repeated stress.” According to The American Psychological Association, it results when one performs at a high level until stress and tension take their toll.

Academic burnout is a chronic condition characterized by exhaustion, frustration, decreased motivation and reduced performance in school. Although it is fairly common to be overwhelmed by mounting assignments, midterms and finals in college, consistently experiencing these symptoms usually indicates academic burnout. Research conducted by Salud Mental shows that at least 40% of students suffer from academic burnout during their college years.

With the onset of the pandemic and its effect on the educational system, this has become an increasingly common occurrence. There is now evidence that the pandemic, as well as the uncertainty that accompanied it, had a significant negative impact on college students, increasing their academic stress levels and gradually eroding their mental health. Many students reported feelings of depression, anxiety, hopelessness and insomnia. The culmination of these factors resulted in the dramatic increase in academic burnout among college students.

Some of the most common manifestations of academic burnout are:

  • Emotional exhaustion.
  • Decreased academic engagement. This includes dreading and skipping classes, as well as intense anxiety about upcoming tests.
  • Gradual decline in academic performance.
  • Inability to sleep or feeling tired even after sleeping.
  • Poor concentration.
  • Loss of interest in social activities and friendships.
  • Increased anxiety and restlessness.
  • Increased irritability.
  • Inability to participate in class discussions or group projects.
  • Lack of motivation, decreased confidence and an inability to meet deadlines.
  • The use of negative coping mechanisms such as stress-eating or substance abuse.

Ways To Prevent Academic Burnout

Academic stress is an unavoidable part of college life, but there are ways to manage it so that it does not lead to academic burnout.

1. Set realistic goals and do not overcommit

Taking on more work than you can handle is one of the quickest ways to burn out. To avoid feeling overwhelmed, limit your number of classes or extracurricular activities. While some opportunities may appear too good to pass up, taking on more than you can handle is usually a recipe for disaster, often resulting in stress, anxiety and reduced work quality. If the workload becomes too much, it is always a good idea to seek assistance from professors, advisors and even classmates.

Furthermore, it is critical to avoid setting unrealistic goals, as this may lead to disappointment and frustration if they are not met. The SMART method is a good way to set attainable goals. SMART is an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timely. Using the method gives your goals an identifiable direction and speed.

2. Effective time management

Time management is critical for success in college and in life. Using tools like Google Calendars and Microsoft Outlook to keep track of assignments, exams and deadlines is a great way to stay organized. Effective time management also aids in avoiding procrastination because work is completed on time and exams are anticipated well in advance. This alleviates the stress associated with inadequate preparation or poor grades as a result of poor-quality work. Making and sticking to a schedule is another effective way to manage your time as it allows you to stay on top of your work while also making time for other commitments. Dividing large projects into smaller chunks of work eliminates the stress that comes from starting large projects at the last minute.

3. Practice self-care

Prioritizing self-care is an effective way to avoid academic burnout. Some specific strategies include eating nutritious meals and engaging in mindful practices such as meditation and yoga. Meditation improves resilience and focus, both of which are essential skills for a college student. Exercising at least three times per week, taking regular walks in nature, drinking plenty of water and getting enough sleep are equally effective. These practices have a significant impact on physical, mental and emotional health, and incorporating them into daily routines can help prevent academic burnout. It is important to note that while mindlessly scrolling on social media or binge-watching TV shows for long hours may be appealing, they are usually not effective stress-relievers but rather temporary escapes from reality.

4. Engage in social activities

Finding a way to balance an academic workload with a social life is one of the most difficult challenges that college students face. While academics are an important part of college, it is important to remember that there is more to the college experience than studying. Joining clubs and participating in campus activities is a great way to unwind while establishing and maintaining meaningful relationships. Scheduling time to spend with family and friends is another excellent way to keep in touch. Regular participation in social activities can also be a reward after a long day’s work, replenishing your mental and physical energy for the days to come.

5. Reach out for help

If you start to feel anxious about school, lose interest in social activities, and have difficulty catching up on schoolwork, it could be a sign of academic burnout. Many colleges provide resources that help students suffering from chronic stress. Asking for assistance is not only normal but recommended.

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