How to Deal with Burnout in College

How to Deal with Burnout in College

We all get burned out from time to time. We’re constantly coping with the stress of school or work, relationships, and the other demands we have to face in our modern lives. Now that we’re still grappling with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the burnout effects may be even worse.

College students reported burnout as a period of extreme fatigue, often leading to apathy. When you start feeling yourself getting to that point of indifference, it can impact your academic performance, among other things.

You might feel overwhelmed as a college student for reasons other than course work, including; physical health, uncertainty about the future, and lack of emotional support.

Below, we go into more detail about what you should know about how to deal with burnout in college. We also talk about the complications if you don’t take steps to get help. 

Understanding Academic Burnout in College

While we most commonly associate burnout with college students, it can occur in any academic situation, including high school. You may be having a series of adverse reactions—emotional, physical, and mental, leading to frustration, a lack of motivation, and exhaustion.

These feelings or symptoms of burnout can occur for weeks or months.

Experiencing burnout isn’t the same as just being temporarily tired or frustrated after pulling a long overnight study session. It’s more of a chronic condition when you experience burnout and a culmination.

Signs of burnout over some time can include:

  • Physical exhaustion, no matter how much you sleep
  • Insomnia
  • Lack of motivation
  • Emotional exhaustion
  • Irritability and frustration
  • Loss of creativity or inspiration
  • Losing confidence in your abilities
  • Not meeting deadlines
  • Problems in relationships
  • More illnesses and immune system problems
  • Pain and tension, such as headaches or muscle aches
  • Increasing your reliance on poor coping habits, like overeating
  • Not being able to concentrate
  • Feeling bored or lacking interest
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Withdrawal from social life 

The critical differentiator that can make all of the above symptoms point to a more chronic stress problem is that they decline your performance. We all experience stress sometimes in school or at work. Pressure can improve our cognitive performance. When that stress causes declines in performance, we might be more likely to describe it as burnout.

When you’re dealing with academic or school-related burnout, it saps your energy. These effects can also directly affect both your physical and mental health. For example, studies have shown that burnout can affect your frontal cortex, reduce your cognitive function, increase your likelihood of blood disorders and even raise the risk of developing coronary heart disease.

burnout in college

How to Deal with School Burnout

Many of the ways you can learn how to deal with student burnout, in general, can be preventative, or you can use these techniques when you’re already experiencing symptoms or recognizing the warning signs.

To avoid the symptoms, in particular, and prevent yourself from feeling stressed, do the following:

  • Make plenty of time for physical activity, and if you can do it outdoors, even better. You don’t have to work out in a gym for hours to get the benefits of physical activity, and sometimes that’s not even the optimal option for your physical or mental health. Instead, just make sure that you’re finding ways to move in whatever way feels good to you each day. Maybe, when you’re feeling frustrated with an assignment, for example, you go for a walk outside.
  • Learn to say no and set boundaries. You need to put your mental and physical energy toward the most important things, and learning to say no and prioritize is a skill that will serve you well not just in school but also in your future career.
  • Make sleep a priority always. When you’re in college, the culture tends to glorify sleep deprivation, swilling caffeine, and staying up all night. You should aim to get seven or eight hours of sleep a night, especially a day before a big exam. When you sacrifice your sleep, you’re creating the illusion of productivity for yourself, but in reality, your performance is probably suffering.
  • Learn to turn your brain off and make time to relax. When you’re in college, your brain is always turned on and is active, but you need to find periods where your mental activity is low, and you’re genuinely relaxing.
  • If you need help, ask for it. There’s nothing honorable about not asking for help, but unfortunately, that’s sometimes what we see in our society. Help can mean any number of things. Maybe you ask your family to help you with something, or you could go to a professional to talk about what you’re experiencing.
  • Lean on your support system, and make sure they’re a positive influence. You do have to be careful, especially as a college student, about who you’re spending time with. You want to get support from motivated and like-minded people in a positive way, and if you find that the people around you are a negative influence, then maybe you take them out of your life.
  • Practice good time management skills. Being in college isn’t just about learning information—it’s about learning how to be productive later in life. Time management is a big part of this. Set reasonable goals for yourself and work toward those, and then take satisfaction in the value of those skills.

Finally, take the time to look at the bigger picture. Maybe you’re doing everything above, and you still feel that burnout or lack of motivation.

Is there something else going on? Maybe you need to re-evaluate and re-assess in a more significant way. For example, are you struggling with a mental health issue like depression or anxiety? Maybe you’ve chosen the wrong school, major, or career path. 

If you’re in recovery mode from college burnout, remember to watch your stress levels, regardless of your course load, so it doesn’t happen again. Don’t ignore how you’re feeling mentally or physically. We encourage you to talk to a mental health professional from The Mental Health Center of San Diego by calling (858) 258-9883 to help with avoiding burnout. It’s a hard time for everyone right now, and especially students, our mental health team today so that we can help you get back on a path to thrive and improve your quality of life. 

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