Academic burnout has long been a problem for students and made much worse by the global pandemic. In fact, 40% of college students reported feeling burnout in 2020 as the pandemic was starting. By that same time in 2021, that number had jumped to 71%. It’s not just you; students everywhere are simply exhausted and feeling hopeless about their academic futures.

The emotional, mental, and physical impacts of striving for academic success are something every student should be wary of and know how to alleviate if the common burnout symptoms start popping up.

What Is Academic Burnout?

Also known as “study burnout”, academic burnout is a decline in emotional, mental, and physical health as a result of excessive studying or immersion in academics.

Common symptoms of burnout include:

  • Depression
  • Exhaustion
  • Falling grades
  • Feelings of frustration
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Impaired personal relationships
  • Lack of motivation
  • Low energy
  • Reduced attention to detail
  • Reduced immunity to disease
  • Substance abuse

Burnout has been an issue for students for as long as academics have existed. It’s only within the past few decades that health researchers have paid more attention to the problem, particularly given suicide is the second leading cause of death for students in the U.S.

Every student should be aware of the symptoms of academic burnout, to protect both themselves and their friends. Recognizing these symptoms and taking an active approach to reducing burnout can save lives.

What Causes Academic Burnout?

Each student encounters academics differently. That being the case, there’s no single cause for academic burnout. However, there are some commonalities that can trigger a burnout cycle.

Academic burnout can be caused by:

  • Spending excessive amounts of time studying
  • Comparing your academic successes to your peers
  • Attempting to take on too many courses at once
  • Disorganization
  • Sudden and unexpected low grade on an assignment or in a class

It’s important to note here that academic burnout can be self-sustaining. Studies show that academic burnout can cause students to suffer academically, fueling more burnout symptoms and behaviors. As such, students that find themselves experiencing academic burnout can get stuck in a negative, downward spiral that becomes increasingly more difficult to get out of.

Ultimately, prioritizing academics over everything else and tying your academic success to your emotional and mental health may run the risk of causing academic burnout.

4 Things to Do If You’re Feeling Burned Out

If you think you or someone you know may be feeling academic burnout, there are several steps you can take or recommend that can help break the cycle. Keep in mind that because academic burnout affects physical, mental, and emotional health, the best ways to fix the problem include a multifaceted approach that touches on all three of these concerns.

1. Take frequent study breaks

Taking study breaks gives your mind and your body time to destress. Although you may feel that taking breaks will make you lose focus, science says the opposite. Breaks will actually re-energize your mind and body, making it easier to focus than if you study excessively without a break. It’s similar to exercise; if you don’t take breaks during exercise routines, you increase fatigue as your muscles don’t have time to repair damage or replace their stores of glycogen.

Your brain needs that time to relax. Sleep is the best break you can give to your brain, but 15-20 minute breaks after every hour of studying will also help you improve your studying and ability to retain information. You may even want to try the Pomodoro technique for increasing productivity by using scheduled break times.

2. Make time to socialize with friends and family

You may love your academics, but unfortunately, they won’t love you back. Not in the way you need from an emotional and mental standpoint, anyway. Fit time into your schedule to socialize with friends and family. Because we are inherently social creatures, socializing improves our mood and makes us happy.

If you need to, combine socializing time with study breaks. Note, however, that social media breaks don’t count here. Social media can actually increase feelings of anxiety and depression, so when possible, choose to see people in person, over video chats, or via voice calls.

3. Take time to exercise

Not only does it improve your health and physical well-being, exercise also has an immediate positive impact on mood. Aerobic activities will pump your body full of endorphins. Mayo Clinic describes the emotional impact of these naturally occurring chemicals to that of morphine. It’s certainly a much better (and much safer) alternative to turning to substances for the same effect, and it doesn’t require anything more than going for a jog or even practicing a high-intensity dance routine.

4. Get a full night’s sleep as often as possible

Getting a proper amount of sleep is one of the most important changes you can make for your health and one of the best ways to turn away academic burnout. A night’s sleep will improve your mood, strengthen your heart, increase your focus and productivity levels, improve memory, and more. Conversely, many of the academic burnout symptoms we mentioned earlier are also associated with chronic sleep loss or sleep deprivation.

Better sleep leads to better academic performance, which in turn makes it less likely you’ll feel under pressure to deprive yourself of sleep just to study more.

Not Sure Where to Start? Seek Help

There is no stigma in seeking help. The best place to begin is by talking to a mental health counselor who can get you on the right track. Academic burnout is exceptionally common, especially among college students. Ignoring the symptoms likely won’t make the burnout go away, and in fact, can compound the issue and make the burnout and its consequences worse. Seek help, or if you see a friend who may be suffering from burnout, step in and provide support.