What is academic burnout?
Academic burnout is the result of negative physical and mental wellbeing, cultivated over a stressful period of time. This could be from those late-night cramming sessions, overnights at the library, or working on long projects. It ultimately affects our ability to perform and our sense of self.
What are the five stages of burnout?
The five stages of burnout is a framework that identifies the cycle of burnout. This also applies to academic burnout too.
The honeymoon phase
This is when you get a â€œhighâ€ from your achievements. It feels great in the moment and you feel tons of creativity, satisfaction from your work, and a sense of achievement. This could be from tons of good feedback you’re getting, a great uni project you’re working on, or even praise from your part-time job.
Onset of stress
This is when things take a bit of a turn. Maybe you get that one bit of feedback from your tutor that knocks your confidence, or you didn’t receive the best mark on an exam or assignment. You begin to feel stress, less satisfaction, and a multitude of other conflicting feelings.
The stress you felt before is more prominent and long-lasting. You feel irritable more often, tiredness in the mornings, lack of sleep or motivation, and may even increase your caffeine intake just to get through the day
This is when symptoms are at their worst and you can’t work at the rate you have been. Things are even more difficult to work through and it can feel like you can’t cope. At this stage, it’s absolutely crucial to get help, as feelings of escapism can arise.
This final stage is when burnout has manifested itself as a more serious problem in your life and is an â€œongoingâ€ feeling. This could lead to mental health problems such as depression, chronic fatigue and a chronic low sense of self.
How do I know if I’m experiencing burnout?
Some of the signs of burnout are quite obvious, but some may surprise you. Here are the signs of burnout you shouldn’t ignore if you’re experiencing them.
You constantly feel exhausted
If you have trouble getting to sleep, getting out of bed, or even both, this is a clear-cut sign you aren’t able to switch off.
Loss of interest in activities and/or your course
Have you lost all enthusiasm for your course or hobbies you once enjoyed? This is a very clear sign you’re experiencing burnout. You may only do the bare minimum, or skip on work and activities altogether.
Irritability, frustration, and cynicism
University might start to feel like a waste of time. You may feel pessimistic about life after university and begin to experience feelings of regret. When these symptoms are prominent, or unusual for you, it’s time to take notice.
Lack of self-care
Dragging yourself out of bed or getting through simple tasks can be overwhelming for you. You may skip showers, brush your teeth, do laundry day, or clean the house.
Easily distracted and indecisive
You may struggle to pay attention when you’re burned out. Underlying stress over a period of time has been proven to affect our cognitive function, making problem-solving and memory recall a bigger task than it usually is.
Stress and overwhelm from burnout can lead to some serious sleep problems if they’re not nipped in the bud. Symptoms include insomnia, restlessness, and trouble getting out of bed.
Turning to alcohol and depressants more than usual
Alcohol is often turned to when people want to unwind and temporarily boost the feel-good hormone serotonin. But if this has become a regular thing, especially in larger quantities, you may be doing yourself a disservice and making your burnout even worse in the long run.
A combination of some or all of these factors above can lead to long-term physical and mental health problems. The main one is depression, which can ultimately have a serious impact on your well-being if you don’t take steps to get yourself back on track.
What are the causes?
You’d be surprised what underlying stresses cause burnout. Here are just some of the few you could experience, especially during your student years.
Too much work
Is your course getting on top of you? Are you struggling to complete tasks because of a lack of support and resources? Or perhaps your part-time job is demanding too much of your time and you can’t seem to struggle with your work and studies.
This will have a profound effect on your energy levels and your ability to keep up. Even if you’re the most organised person, there could be days or weeks where it all gets a bit too much.
Living with nightmare housemates or can’t deal with the noisy halls you’re in? These things can niggle at us, especially when your home is supposed to be a safe haven during your studies.
A lot of students face money problems during their studies. Perhaps your loan came through late, your course is demanding you pay extra for things or you’re massively regretting blowing your cash on all those nights out. Ultimately, your underlying financial worries over a period of time can be what causes you to burn out.
For the curious or science-y types, here’s a video that goes into the biology and psychology of how burnout comes about:
Isolation due to online classes
As human beings, we need social interaction in some capacity. The pandemic has made working online the new norm, but for those who really need social interaction, it can be difficult when that social need isn’t met. Especially when you have to rinse and repeat day in and day out.
How to avoid burnout
Avoiding burnout is totally possible. Check out our steps on avoiding academic burnout during your studies and beyond.
Start with a clean slate
Is your room or workspace uninspiring or cluttered? Work on making your study space a motivating place to be. It could be pinning up photos of inspiring quotes or imagery or buying extra storage to reduce clutter spots.
We know this sounds like more work but hear us out. It’s work on yourself and your immediate environment.
Stuck for inspiration? We love using Pinterest and Instagram to see how people decorate their rooms. Simple searches like â€œbedroom inspoâ€, â€œstudy room ideasâ€, â€œclever storageâ€ and â€œsmall bedroom ideasâ€ are all it takes to bring up a ton of ideas. You could even drill this down further by adding themes like â€œrusticâ€, â€œgothicâ€, â€œminimalâ€ and much more.
A bit of redecoration is not only fun, but it helps reset the mind and gives a renewed sense of purpose.
Take regular breaks
Taking regular breaks between study sessions and time to yourself after a busy day can do wonders for preventing burnout.
Did you know there are 7 types of rest according to this TED article? Here are the 7 types of rest that could help ease burnout.
Physical – sleeping, napping, yoga
Mental – short breaks, journaling
Sensory – turning off lights, music, unplugging from electronics
Creative – enjoying arts in your leisurely time, being out in nature, surrounding yourself with inspiration
Emotional – saying no more, setting boundaries
Social – time to oneself, surrounding yourself with positive people
Spiritual – meditation
Take time out to plan ahead
When you’ve understood where the burnout is coming from, or you’re at the start of a new term or project, really think about scheduling your time properly. The best student planner apps guide is an amazing resource we put together to help you plan your life and studies efficiently.
You don’t have to hit the gym or â€œgo on long walksâ€ during the cold months. Find an activity that gets you moving in some shape or form. It could be as simple as popping some tunes on and having a boogie in your room, or putting 5-minute intense workout videos on YouTube to follow.
More importantly – find an activity that is fun for you.
Drink more water
Did you know drinking water has been proven to relieve fatigue and help you think better? With burnout, you’re likely to neglect your wellbeing and nutrition. Make sure you’re keeping hydrated to get the best out of your brain!
Staying hydrated can be a forgetful thing to do. Invest in a â€œhydrate trackerâ€ water bottle, or set alarms on your phone to remind you to sip water. Get home deals with us to save on a swanky new water bottle!
Struggling to find time to go food shopping? Hello Fresh is a great way to get fresh food and amazing recipes delivered to you! Get Hello Fresh discounts on our site after you sign up.
Keep your nutrition up
A lack of nutrients has a direct effect on your physical and mental health. Our bodies need fuel to run in the form of nutritious, whole foods.
According to Nutritionist Resource, burnout really can be combatted with nutrition! Getting plenty of vegetables and fruits, proteins, complex carbs, nuts and fish are just some of the many foods we can eat to help reduce the stress that leads to burnout.
Have a digital curfew
The â€œalways-onâ€ and â€œFOMOâ€ culture we live in today has us on our digital devices more than ever before. Whilst some sense of fun can be cultivated from this, it’s ultimately a recipe for burnout in the near future.
Set a time to completely unplug from your phone, especially at night. If you really must be on your phone, then turn on a blue light filter, dim the brightness and turn off any unnecessary notifications to reduce the need to reach out when it pings.
What to do if you’re experiencing burnout
n the midst of burnout? We’ve got you. Follow these tips to help yourself get out of academic burnout.
Understand where the burnout is coming from
Take a moment to really think about where the burnout is coming from. Are you working too many hours at what’s supposed to be a part-time job? Have you got too many deadlines and you’re struggling to cope? Has your nutrition suffered as a result?
By identifying the triggers and what you’ve been feeling lately, you can begin to take steps to ease your burnout and return to a better state of being.
Speak to a university counselor
Most universities have a dedicated counsellor and/or spaces where you can check in about your mental health. Speak to your university advisor to find out more about how they can help, it’s free, too.
Be mindful of comparison
It’s normal to compare ourselves to our peers who appear to â€œhave it togetherâ€. The keyword is appear.
We don’t truly know what people are going through and we all work at different paces. Find the one that works best for you with help from your tutor, student counsellor and resources on different learning styles.
Break tasks down into smaller chunks
Sometimes we want to get through everything in one go. This is a recipe for disappointment.
Instead, break down your task or assignment into smaller chunks and work through them in a checklist, pinboard or any format that suits you. By ticking off these smaller tasks, you’ll feel a much greater sense of achievement and be more motivated to power through the rest.
Just don’t bite off more than you can chew!
Gamify your workload
An avid gamer or have a competitive streak? Gamification is a seriously effective way to make your tasks more interesting. Basic gamification techniques can include using the Pomodoro technique to see how much you can accomplish in the time allotted.
Here are other ways to gamify your studies.
Have a reward system based on tasks you complete. This could be going out with mates, treating yourself to a takeaway, social media or actually tackling the level on a video game you want to complete
Reframe what you’re doing or studying. Instead of â€œstudying for my chemistry examâ€, you could say â€œpreparing for my ultimate alchemy experimentâ€. Whatever you come up with that motivates you!
Helpful resources to deal with academic burnout
Below are a couple of resources to help you identify if you have burnout, as well as techniques and ways to get help for it.
The NHS â€œGet Your Mind Planâ€ provides you with some helpful resources after completing a short quiz, such as useful tips on unwinding, links to an IAPT service, exercise routines and more.
This test by MindTools is really useful to see if what you’re experiencing is burnout. It allows you to articulate your symptoms to a student counsellor too when they ask what you’ve been dealing with.
We hope this guide has given you tons of ways to deal with academic burnout. It can apply to work burnout during and beyond university too. We’d love to hear more about ways you deal with burnout over on the Student Beans Twitter page!