7 Tips for Dealing with Academic Burnout

Whether you’re working with Ph.D. candidates or college freshmen, teaching them to balance personal, academic and professional life can be a difficult task. Skillful organization and responsible habits may make the academic schedule more bearable, but fixating too much on studies can have a negative effect on physical and mental health. Academic burnout impacts all types of students, so it’s important to recognize the warning signs and teach habits compatible with a successful, manageable school year.

How Does Burnout Affect Students?

Though the movies might portray the “college experience” as full of frat parties and late-night pizza runs, it’s important to remember that the college years should mainly be dedicated to pursuing studies and expanding knowledge. Professors’ teaching styles and requirements vary greatly, but a personal schedule and self-discipline will help prepare students for any university classroom. However, too much strategizing can consume their focus and lead to a detrimental “obsession mode.”

Many college students face challenges that they may not have experienced in high school, such as anxiety, depression, complex relationship issues, and adjusting to a new environment. These can impact academic performance, causing burnout from the effort to keep up with the courseload. In a society where economic growth and social development can depend on impressive college transcripts and professional connections, meeting high academic demands is often a stressful experience for students. This stress can lead to increased levels of emotional, physical and mental exhaustion, as well as cynical or detached attitudes toward others.

What Are the Warning Signs?

Understanding burnout requires a person to recognize the early symptoms before they become too overwhelming. Academic burnout usually causes students to feel swamped with exhaustion, which can result in low productivity levels and difficulty balancing responsibilities. Warning signs include:

  • Loss of interest in regular hobbies outside of classwork
  • Frequent excuses to avoid social events
  • Lack of energy and motivation
  •  Declining grades
  • Increased levels of anxiety

How Can You Prevent It?

Burnout is not a permanent condition, though it can become more prevalent during peak academic periods such as midterms or final exam season. However, students can implement a variety of strategies to balance intense study hours with time for recreational and social activities. Here are a few ideas to suggest to the students you know:

  1. Recognize how stress is affecting your mind and body. If you’re having trouble sleeping, concentrating or having a conversation without thinking about your schoolwork, you might be experiencing burnout. Listen to your body and learn to recognize what it needs. 
  2. Know when to say no. If you volunteer to be leader of every group project and take on more work than you can handle to impress professors, step back. Give your best effort to only a few projects rather than overextending yourself.
  3. Designate breaks in your schedule. Don’t keep your nose in a book from sunrise to sunset. Take some time to engage in social activities between study sessions, or walk away from your workstation for a few minutes every hour.
  4. Unplug at the right time. Checking email every five minutes can take a toll on your energy level. When you take breaks, set aside your phone and laptop.
  5. Embrace the to-do list. A tangible list with items to physically cross off can provide a great sense of accomplishment. Obligations that feel mentally overwhelming may seem more doable when they’re on paper.
  6. Surround yourself with uplifting people. A strong support system is vital when the demands of academia become too much. Whether it’s a solid group of friends, a family member or a counselor, having someone to listen can lighten the load of a daunting semester.
  7. Treat your body with care. Sleep, proper nutrition and physical health are crucial in healing an overwhelmed body and mind. While it may seem unavoidable to pull an all-nighter fueled by energy drinks and protein bars, try to prioritize your health instead.

Burnout may start in the classroom, but it often carries over to students’ lives after college. The good news is, it can be prevented and treated. Inform yourself of the warning signs, and promote healthy coping mechanisms to help equip students for academic, personal and professional success.

Author bio: Dr. Tamika Haynes is CEO, operator, and founder of Scholars Professional Editing Group LLC, managing high-level teams while collaborating cross-functionally in the continued pursuit of building a vision for success. As a seasoned mentor, Dr. Haynes understands the inescapable challenges, rigor, and intricacies of the endless cycle of revisions, committee changes, ambiguous feedback, increasing student loan debt, and countless sleepless nights while managing the demands of life, family, and work. Out of the core of her frustrations and challenges, Dr. Haynes birthed a passionate mission to assist and fully equip doctoral candidates with knowledge on how to write a scholarly dissertation and navigate to the finish line successfully.