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    Top 10 Tips for How to Handle College Burnout

    Cait Williams By Cait Williams
    Cait Williams

    Cait Williams is a Content Writer at Scholarships360. Cait recently graduated from Ohio University with a degree in Journalism and Strategic Communications. During her time at OU, was active in the outdoor recreation community.

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    Edited by Maria Geiger
    Maria Geiger

    Maria Geiger is Director of Content at Scholarships360. She is a former online educational technology instructor and adjunct writing instructor. In addition to education reform, Maria’s interests include viewpoint diversity, blended/flipped learning, digital communication, and integrating media/web tools into the curriculum to better facilitate student engagement. Maria earned both a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature from Monmouth University, an M. Ed. in Education from Monmouth University, and a Virtual Online Teaching Certificate (VOLT) from the University of Pennsylvania.

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    Posted: March 5th, 2024
    Student with academic burnout rubs his eyes in the library

    You may have heard of academic burnout before and just sort of brushed it off. After all, college is a stressful place and being burnt out may seem like a rite of passage. The truth is it doesn’t have to be. In this article, we’ll talk about all things academic burnout, such as how to spot it and how to avoid it!

    Also see: Easy scholarships to apply to 

    What is burnout?

    Burnout is a real thing that the World Health Organization has officially recognized and added to the eleventh revision of the ICD (International Classification of Diseases). While it is not classified as a disease or disorder, it is classified as a phenomena that can seriously impact your overall health. Academic burnout may look like feelings of extreme mental exhaustion, distancing yourself from responsibilities or others, and reduced ability to complete tasks efficiently. 

    The difference between stress and burnout

    In order to understand burnout, it’s important to understand how it differs from stress as they do present very similarly. Let’s say, for example, that you are stressed about a project. The chances are you’ll be able to complete the project and the stress will be relieved. However, when you are burnt out, finishing a project or assignment usually does not alleviate that stress. 

    Academic burnout is when students experience prolonged periods of stress that can have long term negative impacts on your life. These impacts may look like negative changes in your social life, feelings of depression, a dip in your grades, heightened anxiety, and more. 

    10 tips to handle academic burnout

    Academic burnout can be a hard hole to crawl out of. It’s not easy to know where to start when you’re struggling with so many emotions. Below are a few of our suggestions, some of which you can take advantage of before burnout even hits!

    1. Talk to your guidance counselor

    Your guidance counselor will help you schedule your classes and keep you on track to earning your degree. If you have a particularly heavy semester coming up, speak with them about your options. Maybe one of those classes can be taken during the summer instead. If your classes can’t be moved around, ask them if they can inform you about resources such as tutoring or even bi-weekly meetings with each other to check in to see if adjustments need to be made. Your guidance counselor is there to help guide you, so don’t forget to use them as a resource! 

    2. Familiarize yourself with campus resources

    Nearly every college campus has some sort of counseling center on campus where students have access to free or discounted counseling services. When you’re dealing with feelings of burnout, sometimes the best thing you can do is talk with someone about it. It can help you put things into perspective and feel a little less alone. Don’t be afraid to utilize these resources. The professionals you’ll speak with are held to strict confidentiality policies, which means you can be confident that what you say will stay in the office.

    3. Build in time for yourself (Self-care)

    Taking breaks while you’re studying is great, but sometimes you need a little more. Plan things in your schedule that you can look forward to. Having fun things that you know are coming up may help you get through your week and motivate you to work hard. Maybe this means hanging with friends, cooking, watching a movie, or whatever else helps you feel best!

    4. Lighten your course load

    If you’re experiencing burnout mid-semester, it may be worth assessing if you can drop a class to lighten the number of credit hours you’re taking. We mentioned above that this is something you can talk to your guidance counselor about before the semester starts. Keep in mind that if it is necessary, you can also make this change partway through the semester. Look into maybe taking the class in the summer instead or the following semester. With so many classes now being offered in online formats, students have a lot more options to choose from! 

    Related: 10 tips for taking online classes

    5. Take a break

    It’s great to take breaks on the weekend or during study sessions, but sometimes an hour or a day just won’t cut it. Sometimes you need a week, or two, or… a semester. Again, we know that making big changes to your schedule can sound really scary. It might mean you don’t graduate when you thought you would. Sometimes taking a break is necessary if you want to finish strong and enjoy yourself as you pursue your education. 

    Further reading: Top reasons to take a break from college

    6. Consider your circumstances

    Everyone has things to deal with outside of school. We have relationships, friendships, jobs, bills, existential questions about our futures, and probably a laundry list of other things. If you’re feeling burnt out, don’t forget to factor these things into the equation as well. You may come to find that it’s not school burning you out, as much as it is the hours you’re working, or a challenging family circumstances you might be dealing with. 

    Also read: Tips for dealing with homesickness in college

    7. Make a plan with a friend

    Academic burnout has the potential to affect every college student out there, which means your friends are no exception. Make a plan with one or a few friends to do check-ins with each other throughout the semester. Hold each other accountable to doing one fun thing together each week and reaching out to one another when you’re struggling. Just simply knowing you have support can help those growing feelings of stress, depression or anxiety feel a lot less scary.

    Don’t miss: How to get involved on campus

    8. Exercise

    Not everyone enjoys hearing the word exercising, but exercising can mean a lot of things. It can mean going to the gym and lifting weights, going for a walk outside, swimming, playing sports with friends, or a number of other things. The point is to get your body moving. When you exercise your brain is stimulated and releases chemicals called endorphins that may help you feel happier and less stressed. Starting with something as simple as a 20 minute walk might do more than you realize. 

    9. Eat well

    Similar to how exercise can impact you, eating well can impact you as well. The better you eat, the more energy you will have and the better equipped you’ll feel to take on school and life. Keep in mind that what works for others might not work for you. So, do your best to listen to your body and fuel your brain and mind so that you can feel your best to do your best!

    10. Go easy on yourself

    Last but not least, our end advice is simple: go easy on yourself. Whether you’re getting burnt out trying to keep your grades up to apply to colleges, are working towards a degree of any type, have a lot to deal with outside of school, or anything else going on, you should be proud of yourself. Giving your all to your education is not easy. Give yourself some credit for working so hard! You may not be able to see it now, but your efforts won’t be in vain! 

    How to spot academic burnout

    Academic burnout can be hard to spot in yourself, so let’s talk about some questions that you can ask yourself to identify if maybe you’re experiencing burnout. There are of course more questions that may need to be asked, but these should be a good starting point!

    Questions to ask yourself

    • Can I recall new material I recently studied or recent lectures?
    • Am I sleeping any differently than usual?
    • Have I skipped any classes recently? 
    • When was the last time I hung out with friends or took some time to myself?
    • Have my eating habits changed? 

    It’s okay to be burnt out 

    Before we close out, we just want to add one more thing to the conversation. All the tips above are great and they can be helpful, but the reality is that sometimes they might not be enough. If they aren’t and you feel yourself getting more and more bogged down, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Whether it’s letting trusted friends or family members in, speaking to a professor or guidance counselor, or consulting with a professional, such as a counselor, this is more than okay. Whether we admit it or not, we all need help at different times in life. It’s okay to be burnt out and it’s certainly okay to ask for help!

    Key Takeaways

    Key Takeaways

    • Academic burnout is a real thing that students commonly experience throughout their academic career
    • Being burnt out goes beyond just being stressed, and may have more long term negative effects on your health
    • Have plans in place for how to handle academic burnout, or better yet, try to take preventative measures to avoid burnout in the first place
    • If you do find yourself burnout, understand that that is okay and reaching out for help from someone else might be your best place to start 

    Frequently asked questions about academic burnout

    How long does it take to get over academic burnout?

    The time needed to recover from academic burnout can vary depending on each student. Some students may find that winter or summer breaks are long enough, while others may need several months, or even up to a year. This is why gap years, or time off between undergraduate and higher degree programs are common.

    How common is academic burnout?

    Roughly four out of five college seniors have experienced academic burnout by the time they graduate college. This means that it’s likely you’ll experience it at some point. Don’t let it scare you though. There are plenty of things you can do to prepare yourself and your campus should offer plenty of resources to help!

    Why can’t I remember what I’m studying?

    The common feeling that you experience during burnout is an increase in stress. An increase in stress means that you are experiencing an increase in cortisol, the chemical that makes you feel stressed. Cortisol in high levels can have negative effects on your brain, such as harm to your memory. If you’re struggling to learn new material, it’s a good indicator that you may be experiencing unusually high levels of stress.

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