Picture this. You wake up in the morning with a busy day of lectures and assignments. You want to go straight back to bed – the thought of doing any of these tasks seems entirely overwhelming for you. You're feeling irritable and can't seem to calm yourself down. Everything feels too much.
If this sounds too familiar, you are most likely going through an academic burnout. This happens when your academic performance and personal life seem overwhelming, and you think you cannot cope anymore. This might make you feel anxious, and you cannot focus on anything.
How do I know if I am experiencing academic burnout?
With a mountain pile of classwork and homework piling up, the transition to online learning and again going back to school, and the added stress of the pandemic, burnout is widespread among students.
But what makes burnout even more dangerous is that not everyone recognizes it in themselves. Burnout was officially recognized in 2019 by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as an ‘occupational phenomenon’ and was added to their International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11). But did you know it wasn't an official term until recently, despite being experienced by thousands of people worldwide?
What are some of the common signs of burnout?
Some of the most common symptoms include a general feeling of unable to keep up. You think you have too much to do, too many assignments, exams, and lectures to catch up on. This takes your energy which also makes you feel unmotivated and cynical. This overwhelming feeling, in turn, causes fatigue, sleepless nights, and anxiety. Due to this, some people might feel headaches, backaches, and musculoskeletal pain.
This emotional and physical strain can also spill over into your home life, making you uncharacteristically short-tempered and irritable. If you feel irritable, crabby, or you can't sleep because you're worried about your work, these are clear signs that burnout is on its way.
What causes academic burnout?
This is unlikely to be caused by one thing in particular since many factors usually contribute to stress, which, over time, can contribute to academic burnout if not appropriately managed.
Having a massive amount of academic work to complete by a strict deadline can often add to students' stress levels. This is especially true when you need to achieve a specific grade. This would lead you to stare at a computer screen and not have enough time to exercise or sleep.
Neglecting other aspects of life
When students feel overworked, they often overlook other parts of their lives to finish their pending assignments, cancel plans, and do not give themselves enough time to recuperate. This means not exercising, sacrificing family time, healthcare, and personal care. Unless the balance changes, students will continue to face burnout because it is too much for them.
Apart from all the abovementioned points, worries about finding a proper place of accommodation have also contributed to people feeling anxious with increased stress levels. Many psychologists believe that students should be able to focus on their studies, but instead, they're having to fight for their rights and trying to get discounts and refunds on their accommodation.
Since the Covid-19 pandemic has forced to close down several restaurants, pubs, and shops around the world, many students have lost their part-time jobs. In many cases, this meant the loss of a vital source of income. This has added to their stress, contributing to burnout.
How can you prevent academic burnout?
If you are starting to feel particularly irritable or experience some burnout symptoms, several prevention techniques will reduce the likelihood of burnout. You can start doing it by:
Taking regular breaks
Many specialists have suggested that the 20-2- technique is highly beneficial when staring at a computer screen for long hours. Every 20 minutes, look at something 20 meters away for 20 seconds. Practicing this technique reduces the strain on your eyes and helps clear your mind before going back to work.
This is often sidelined, especially when you are stressed, but dehydration can cause a whole host of problems contributing to academic burnout. According to the NHS, dehydration can make you feel dizzy, lightheaded, and tired.
What to do if you are experiencing burnout?
If you think you're experiencing burnout and everything seems a bit overwhelming, the best thing you can do is talk to someone. This might be your tutor or a lecturer who you feel comfortable around. If your problem extends beyond your workload, sharing the same with your teacher can be the first step to solving your burnout. If you need support with your mental health, they can direct you to someone who can help you.
Stop comparing yourself
Many people have realized while teaching that students tend to compare themselves with others – particularly when it comes to grades. This puts unnecessary pressure on themselves, and if they get a lower grade than their friends, they catastrophize and think they've failed. But it is also important to remember that when you get a job reference, they don't ask what grades the students got for their modules – they're not interested. But they do ask: 'Was the student hardworking? Was the student enthusiastic? Was the student honest?'
Break down your problems
The best way to tackle academic burnout is to break down your tasks into manageable chunks, which will reduce your stress levels and reduce the impact of burnout. These smaller tasks will give you better control of your situation. If the tasks seem more minor, they're more manageable.