Experiencing stress while attending college is a normal occurrence, and because stress is normal, students often fail to recognize signs and symptoms of a completely different condition—burnout.
Burnout is characterized by a state of emotional, mental and physical exhaustion that is caused by excessive and prolonged stress. Burnout occurs when you feel overwhelmed and are unable to meet constant demands. You begin to lose interest and motivation as stress continues to build.
Student burnout usually appears as extreme exhaustion, depression, negative feelings about oneself and the inability to do necessary tasks; it reduces your productivity and saps your energy, leaving you feeling increasingly helpless, hopeless, cynical and resentful.
It is real and not an excuse. Many people—instructors, family members and even students themselves—don’t believe in burnout. They think students are being lazy. Burnout is real, and it can cause students to fail courses and drop out of school. It is an emotional, mental and physical problem that needs attention from the sufferer and occasionally a therapeutic professional.
Over time, you lose energy and start to slow down. The next thing you know, you’re procrastinating on your coursework. You may even start taking incompletes for some of your assignments or classes because you can’t find the energy to do them.
Signs and symptoms of burnout exist along a continuum.
Chronic fatigue: lack of energy and feeling tired; in later stages, physical and emotional exhaustion, drained and depleted and feeling a sense of dread.
Insomnia: early symptoms, include trouble falling asleep and staying asleep; later symptoms, persistent nightly ordeal
Forgetfulness: impaired concentration and attention; you can’t get work done, and everything begins to pile up.
Physical symptoms: chest pains, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, gastrointestinal pain, dizziness, fainting and headaches.
Increased illness: more vulnerable to infections, colds, flus etc.
Loss of appetite: not hungry and skipping meals.
Anxiety: early, mild symptoms of tension, worry and edginess; later may become so serious that it interferes with work, productivity and problems in one’s personal life.
Depression: mild sadness, hopelessness and feelings of guilt and worthlessness. At worst, feeling trapped, severely depressed and thinking the world would be better off without you.
Anger: interpersonal tension and irritability; eventually, angry outbursts and serious arguments Signs: Cynicism, detachment, loss of enjoyment is at first mild, pessimism and isolation
Detachment – general sense of feeling disconnected from others and one’s environment.
Signs: ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment
Feelings of apathy and hopelessness; nothing is going right and nothing matters as well as increased irritability.
Lack of productivity and poor performance; chronic stress prevents productiveness, and a lack of productiveness leads to incomplete projects and an ever-growing to-do list you can’t climb out from.
Student burnout is more common than you think. Students face an overwhelming amount of pressure. You strive to do the best you can in courses and completing coursework, this in addition to other responsibilities such as work, family or extracurricular activities. Many students feel as though there aren’t enough hours in a day, so they begin to sleep less, eat less and cut out social activities. All these factors contribute to burnout because they deprive a person of essential recovery time.
So how do you avoid burnout?
Prioritize your coursework and homework for better time management. Don’t waste time on unnecessary tasks; this will give you the ability to do the things you need to do as well as the things you want to do.
Know your limitations. There are many things you want to accomplish at one time, but sometimes, it’s just not possible. Decide what’s more important to you now.
Schedule time for yourself. This will allow you to release tension and bring down stress levels, so you can be more productive when you start working again. Designate time to meet a friend, exercise or meditate. You’ll end up burned out, or worse, without a release for tension.