Understanding Academic Burnout

by | Apr 24, 2024 | 0 comments

Since the Covid pandemic, we are hearing and talking more about people suffering with workplace burnout. In my own coaching practice, I am seeing the rise of academic burnout which is not something that is commonly talked about.

The purpose of this article is to bring awareness to the signs and symptoms of academic burnout and share how students can overcome burnout.

According to the World Health Organization,

“Burnout is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed”.

Academic burnout is not simply a result of challenging course load. It can be several factors that overwhelm students, leaving them feeling drained and disengaged. Common contributors include:

  • Intense and excessive workload – This leads to overwhelm, stress and exhaustion.
  • Perfectionism – The student may have unrealistic expectations causing frustration and disappointment.
  • Lack of support – The student can feel socially isolated where there is a lack of support from their peers, family, friends, and workplace.

Symptoms of Burnout

The symptoms of academic burnout can present themselves physically, emotionally, and behaviourally.

The physical signs of burnout can include:

  • Feeling tired and drained most of the time.
  • Lowered immunity, frequent illnesses and being unable to shift coughs and colds.
  • Frequent headaches or muscle pain
  • Change in appetite or sleep habits.

The emotional signs of burnout can include:

  • Sense of failure and self-doubt
  • Feeling helpless, trapped & defeated.
  • Detachment
  • Loss of motivation
  • Increasingly cynical & negative outlook

The behavioural signs of burnout can include:

  • Withdrawing from responsibilities
  • Isolating from others
  • Procrastinating
  • Using food, drugs, or alcohol to cope
  • Taking out frustrations on others
  • Skipping out on study or even skipping the exam itself.

When it comes to burnout, it is useful to think about the “Three R” approach.

Recognise:          Know the for the signs of burnout

Reverse:              Seek support and mange stress and overwhelm.

Resilience:          Take care of both physical and emotional health

Preventing Academic Burnout

It is important for students to find balance where they can between work, study, and other commitments. At the start of every week, get a bird’s eye view of what the week ahead looks like and plan your week from there. By creating a realistic schedule for your work, study, and other commitments, this will give you the feeling that you are in control. Ensure you are incorporating plenty of breaks into your routine and be sure to have something in your week that you can look forward to.

I always encourage students to incorporate self-care into their weekly plan and study routines. Prioritizing self-care and breaks in turn fuels productivity when it comes to study. There is no magic formula when it comes to self-care while you study. It will depend on you as an individual. It can be as simple as going for a nice walk, or meeting a friend for a coffee or listening to a podcast that is not related to your study.

Seek support if you need it. You can do anything, but you can’t do everything. Develop a strong support system through peer groups, friends and family that will champion and support you.

Overcoming Burnout

For those of you who are grappling with academic burnout there are number of things I suggest.

Take some to understand the root cause of the burnout. This in turn will help you identify areas for improvement.

I always recommend seeking support from a healthcare professional like your GP if you feel you have burnout.

Reflect on your goals. For most of you, you will have set a performance goal such as “I want to pass my exam first time around”. When we focus on a performance goal such as this, it can feel overwhelming. I suggest breaking this goal down into a learning goal. Instead of focusing on the outcome, focus on the learning. For each study session, set yourself a learning goal. For example, “Today I want to learn the conditions of retirement relief. I will check my understanding of this by doing a past exam question”. This will help reduce that feeling of overwhelm.

Prioritizing your sleep, nutrition, exercise, and hobbies will go a long way in helping you overcome burnout.

Incorporate breathing or mindfulness into your study routine. This will help you move from a stressed state to a calmer state. A simple technique is to take a deep abdominal breath in for seven seconds and breathe out for eleven seconds. When the “out” breath is longer than the “in” breath, it is activating the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest) and easing the sympathetic nervous system (fight, flight, or freeze).

By recognising the signs of academic burnout, implementing preventive strategies, and seeking help when needed, students can navigate the pressures of their exams, while preserving their mental health and well-being.