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Preventing and Navigating Burnout in College

When people talk about college, they often focus on the fun and freedom it brings, and they ignore the immense amount of pressure and stress that comes with it. College can be an exciting and overwhelming time. The classes are more rigorous, and you’re expected to learn an immense amount of material in a short timeframe. By the middle of the semester, classes pick up pace, and you find yourself caught in a cycle of frequent exams, each worth a substantial part of your grade. With some classes requiring large projects, papers, and weekly assignments, it can be difficult to juggle it all and stay on top of every class.

For many students, the chronic stress and overwhelming academic demands of college cause burnout. Burnout can be defined as “physical, emotional, or mental exhaustion accompanied by decreased motivation, lowered performance, and negative attitudes toward oneself and others.” A 2021 study by Ohio State University found that 71% of students reported feelings of burnout. After reading this blog, you'll be able to recognize the signs of burnout within yourself and specific ways to reduce burnout in the future.

college student burnout with notebook over face laying down

What Are Some Signs of Burnout?

  • Taking longer on assignments than normal

  • Having no or low motivation

  • Feeling exhausted and drained

  • Difficulties with concentration and focus

  • Frequent illness

  • Becoming increasingly irritable

What Can You Do to Prevent Burnout?

  1. Prioritize Your Well-being. It can be easy to place academics over your own well-being. This can look like choosing to study instead of sleeping, neglecting your physical health, isolating yourself from friends, or not taking time to do activities you enjoy. Taking care of yourself is crucial to preventing burn out. Be intentional about your self-care by getting enough sleep, eating healthily, and using healthy coping skills.

  2. Schedule Time in Your Week for Activities You Enjoy. Many students believe they don’t have enough time to do activities they enjoy when they’re feeling overwhelmed with schoolwork. However, engaging in pleasant activities can actually be reinvigorating and allow you to be more productive. By taking time to do things you enjoy, you can recharge your energy and approach your work with greater focus and effectiveness.

  3. Stay Connected with Friends. Humans are social creatures, so your social needs are just as important as your physical needs. Spending time with friends can be a powerful antidote to burnout. Engaging in social activities and nurturing healthy relationships can boost your mood and reduce stress. Talking with your friends about your stressors and getting support from them can also allow you to process your feelings and improve your mental health.

  4. Set Boundaries. Boundaries are a way for us to express our rights and needs. Setting clear boundaries is vital to preventing burnout. Say no to activities or responsibilities that don't add value to your life. Establish limits on your time and energy to prioritize your self-care and maintain balance. It may be helpful to reevaluate your current responsibilities/obligations and think about what adds to your life versus takes away.

  5. Practice Mindfulness. Adding mindfulness practices into your day can promote your well-being and reduce burnout. Mindfulness is being fully aware of the present moment and noticing any thoughts, emotions, and sensations as they come up without judgment. Some ways to practice mindfulness include taking a mindful walk, tuning into your senses, and listening to a guided meditation.

In all, it can be difficult to not feel burnout in college. By recognizing signs of burnout and prioritizing your well-being, you can proactively protect yourself from the effects of chronic stress. If burnout has been affecting you in college, seeking professional help from a therapist can be a valuable resource for improving your well-being. Therapy can provide you a safe space to explore your concerns, find balance, and improve your mental health. As a therapist in Gainesville FL, I'm passionate about supporting self-critical, overwhelmed adults who want to live more fulfilling, joyful lives. Click here to learn more about me! Reach out to me today, and let’s start your journey of healing and growth!

Written by Sasha Larson, LMHC


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