End of the semester burnout

UTSA’s first semester back in-person takes a toll on all of us

Amanda Sellers, Staff Writer

You are exhausted. It’s obvious by this point in the semester that even just barely passing your classes is fine. It’s coming up on that time when you wish the holidays were here and not just because it’s an excuse to sleep the day away. End of semester burnout is affecting everyone a little differently this semester, with some taking a harder hit than others. But what is it exactly that has us all doubled over in pain particularly bad this year at the thought of final exams and group project presentations?

Mary Dixson, a professor in the Communications department here at UTSA, has a couple of years of experience under her belt to explain what the big deal is. “So for a lot of people, this is the first time in — for some of them — a year and a half that they’ve had a normal class schedule, and I think people have had difficulties with work, difficulties with family, living arrangements, to make this semester work, so that’s challenging,” Dixson said. “That puts people, mentally, in a difficult place.” Dixson explains that this year, especially after a whole year of Zoom University and trying to make lockdown work, has definitely changed up the new normal for a lot of students and faculty. 

“I think all of it comes together to really start to drag on people and mentally all of us, faculty too, are like ‘okay, how do I get through the rest of this semester in a way that offers the most success and the least amount of stress,’” Dixson says that with the newly added difficulty of living in the time of COVID-19, students and faculty must be especially careful with how they organize their work schedule and life considering a good portion of the UTSA student body lives with other people.  

Others on campus are learning to live with the changes and are flourishing especially well with the hybrid modality of classes this semester. Anastasia Muñoz, a freshman in the dental program at UT Health, describes her semester as more easygoing. “Actually because my classes are a mix of in-person and online and I get to choose and manage my time better, [it’s] definitely easier.” The only issues Muñoz described were those of technical difficulties. “[There are issues] maybe just with communication in all online classes,” Muñoz said. “Political science and history can be a little bit hard. The websites go down, it’s annoying, or even just Blackboard itself not working. I know teachers get spammed constantly by students about the same problems and they don’t get [to] respond right away.”

Still, at the beginning of each semester, students start out strong with shining ambitions and hearts full of hope. But then, around the fourth or fifth week, they steadily appear to run out of that impressive momentum and begin to struggle to simply crawl across the finish line. So why do we start out with such high expectations for ourselves when we know very well that we won’t make it to the end like this? Is it wishful thinking? Are we masochists?

In 2006, the University of Southern Maine polled over 350 students about the causes of their end-of-semester burnout. About 5% said it was because of their mental/physical issues. 13% reported that it was because of their personal lack of motivation. 25% said that it was because of external issues like family, finances and work. The rest attributed their burnout to the back-breaking courseload from their classes and an excessive amount of assignments from each of their professors. Burnout is especially agonizing for the students who are taking five and six classes at a time in order to graduate on schedule.

So what can be done? Can we ever stop sabotaging ourselves? 

The university has made great strides to provide students with the resources needed to succeed in any circumstance. UTSA’s Wellbeing Services is equipped to combat these obstacles that students inevitably face every semester. Dixson gives the university credit where credit is due in this regard. “I think the university has done a great job with adapting, and I want to give them so much credit because our student wellbeing services have so many resources that just weren’t available when I went to college, or even just a few years ago. The idea that we can now talk about mental health, [it’s a] big huge thing. The fact that we now have access to counseling on the phone, you can chat with people; we have all of these workshops and resources that they’re doing, but I think the challenge that the university is having is getting that information out to the students.”  

To fight the urge to crumble under all the pressure, there are many things that students can do. Most experts recommend taking frequent breaks and setting aside time every day to relax and deflate from the day’s anxieties. Additionally, as Dixon mentioned, you should prioritize your assignments in order from most time-sensitive to least, strategically planning out the best way to finish your tasks without driving yourself into the ground. The most important thing to remember when getting through your list is that your academic achievement does not equal your self-worth; you are not your grades and you certainly are not your list of missing assignments.  

End-of-semester burnout touches all of us differently at different times in the semester, but it is important to remember that all things must come to an end eventually.