Getting stressed while attending college is a normal phenomenon, and because it seems normal, sometimes people fail to recognize the signs and symptoms of a completely different condition – burnout. While it’s often ignored or downplayed as normal college stress, burnout is much more serious than just day-to-day stress.
If you feel you or someone you know could be suffering from burnout, read on for tips on what to do next. If you suffer from stress and are looking for ways to manage it to avoid ending up in burnout, read on for prevention tips. The first thing you should know is that it is more common than you think and will get better the sooner you address it. Read on to learn more about this silent condition.
What is Burnout?
Burnout is characterized by a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion that is caused by excessive and prolonged stress. Burnout occurs when you feel overwhelmed and unable to meet constant demands. As the stress continues, you begin to lose the interest or motivation that led you to take on a certain role in the first place. While the exact symptoms are different in every case, student burnout usually appears as extreme exhaustion, depression, negative feelings about oneself, and the inability to attend to necessary tasks. Burnout reduces your productivity and saps your energy, leaving you feeling increasingly helpless, hopeless, cynical, and resentful. Eventually, you may feel like you have nothing more to give. In this fast-paced day and age, we all have many responsibilities and demands on our time and energy. So it’s not surprising that we sometimes feel bored, overloaded, or unappreciated; if all we do goes unnoticed or unrewarded; or when just getting out of bed feels like a huge task. Yet, if you feel like this most of the time, this could be indicative of a more serious condition than stress, and you may have burnout.
These are some of the biggest warning signs that we overlook:
- Making careless mistakes that you ordinarily wouldn’t make.
- Lashing out at others due to pressure and frustration.
- Lacking opinions or ideas to classroom discussions or group projects.
- Losing confidence, motivation, and otherwise feeling incapable to keep deadlines.
- Constantly feeling exhausted despite getting sleep or not sleeping well at all.
- Habitually stress eating, overthinking, or anything else you know is a bad habit for you.
- Not noticing pain and tension in your body from working or thinking about work constantly.
- Experiencing frequent headaches or dizzy spells.
- Finding yourself getting sick more often with head colds, stomach flu, etc.
- Finding yourself in strife and sensitive over small issues with others like comments or criticism.
- Not being able to concentrate on leisure activities like reading or watching a film.
- Constantly feeling bored or uninterested in matters you used to enjoy.
Dealing With Burnout: Getting Help
If you exhibit any of these symptoms and find yourself having severe negative moods or are in a state of being overwhelmed and incapacitated, it’s important to take this seriously and deal with burnout right away. Often people are in such a state by the time they are close to a burnout; they can no longer recognize the symptoms. Yet, if you recognize the warning signs of impending burnout in yourself, keep in mind that it will surely only get worse if you leave it alone. When you ignore your body’s signals—the aching shoulders or the inability to keep track of our schedule—you’re headed for disaster. It’ll build up over time and these signs are your body’s way of trying to get your attention.
Students put a lot of pressure on themselves to do well, but nothing is more important than your health and well-being. If burnout is looming, allow yourself to get support from professionals who can help you make a transition to a healthier lifestyle and habits for yourself that include respecting yourself, your needs, and your boundaries. You must take steps to get your life back into balance to prevent burnout from becoming a full-blown breakdown.
When you start to feel chronic stress from job burnout and emotional exhaustion, employ some stress management techniques that can be researched online. Also, reach out to family members for help – don’t feel like you’re alone! If you don’t feel like your family will be supportive, FNU will be there for you. Just reach out to our staff at the Student Services Center.
Most At-Risk Students for Burnout:
Medical Student Burnout
It is expected that medical school brings on stressors that not every student can handle. Even when bright and motivated students are loaded down with menial tasks, burnout can manifest. Long hours of studying, essays, the constantly evolving nature of medicine all contribute to what feels like insurmountable pressure yet are still being told to push through burnout. Research has shown that up to 50 percent of medical students experience symptoms of burnout. Other studies show that medical students are more susceptible to burnout than the average college-goer.
Nailing down just one cause of medical student burnout is unrealistic as all potential causes of burnout should be recognized and understood by school administrations. Such as how more and more medical students are being pressured to become a full-time physician, the lack of clinical continuity with poor levels of feedback from senior doctors, and hostile attitudes during training, etc. These are some that are unique or especially common to medical students:
- Competing demands for the time between constant medical school and family/friends.
- Strained finances due to exorbitant student loans.
- The doctors “don’t have mental illnesses” lie since they know how to prevent burnout.
- The “hidden curriculum” as it’s known when medical students are given menial tasks.
- Unattainable expectations from parents, fellows, and doctors they admire.
- No incentive for well-being since a culture of ‘push through it’ is more encouraged.
Architecture Student Burnout
The demands placed on architecture students is leading to burnout, mental health issues and even thoughts of suicide in some parts of the country according to a recent study. In Architecture school, students are instructed to work long hours and cut down on sleep, with no support offered as some professors cite that, as an architecture student, all-nighters should be considered the common practice.
This not only leads to burnout but also isolation from their support networks, breakdowns due to stress and lack of sleep.
Because the work culture is similar, students are told to expect to work in the studio for up to 10 – 14 hours per day on top of my other class time, homework, jobs, and a commute. Students are often warned not to expect to see friends or family during the semester. Thankfully some schools are fighting back and advising design departments not to have a 24-hour studio culture and instead encourage a work-life balance for students. After all, how will architectural design students be inspired without experiencing their lives?
Here are a few tips for preventing student burnout:
Time Management and Organization
Students are less likely to experience burnout when they keep up with their assignments in a timely fashion and prepare in advance for exams. Effectively managing time and deadlines by using a calendar is very helpful for keeping track of priorities and deadlines, keeping on track with responsibilities, and avoiding procrastination.
Breaking Down Responsibilities
Breaking down long-term goals or massive projects into smaller, more achievable benchmarks can go a long way toward avoiding the stress that occurs with last-minute projects and trying to pull all-nighters. Burnout often occurs when people do not allow themselves to set smaller goals, achieve them, and feel good about their success before moving on to the next phase of a project.
Set Reasonable Goals and Stick to Them
Although stress is not the same as burnout, stress certainly can lead to burnout if not managed appropriately. Being unrealistic about goals and your ability to meet them, piling on more courses than you can handle and having a social life that leaves little time for work can be a recipe for disaster. It’s important not only to avoid too many classes but also to be sure that you have a mix of courses. Even a student passionately interested in psychology may find taking only psych courses too taxing. Likewise, setting unattainable goals often results in students throwing in the towel rather than persevering.
Maintain Good Health and Respect Personal Needs
It sounds like common sense advice, and it is. Eating healthily, getting exercise, and having enough sleep are imperative to staying on a healthy course and not letting normal stress lead to burnout. In addition, try to consistently make time for stress-reducing activities such as taking relaxing walks, going for a swim or other physical exercise, doing regular deep breathing, or any other activity that you find pleasurable and not stressful. Keep in mind that watching TV or killing time on the computer does not actually relieve stress – it often just lets it sit dormant. The most effective stress-reducing activities are either calming ones such as meditation, yoga, walking, and breathing, or physical exercise and sport- because they release positive endorphins and aids in sleep. Adding these activities to your routine make a big difference in feeling good and achieving a healthy life balance that will help you avoid burnout.
“Go Dark” with a Social-Media Shutdown
The constant presence of social media and Internet updates in our life can add to a sense of overstimulation that can overwhelm us. It’s important to take a break from school life, and that doesn’t just mean putting the books aside for a day off from studies. Disconnecting from social media is recommended for students and workers alike. At least one hour before going to sleep shut off mobile devices and social media. Not only can the information run you ragged, but the light screens in computers, smartphones, tablets, and other devices can interfere with your circadian rhythms and render you unable to calm down, rest or sleep through the night. Turning off and tuning out for a while may be the best way to avoid burnout.
Fight Back Against Burnout
Many experts say that in order to effectively and safely deal with burnout, you need to use the “Three R” approach:
Watch for and recognize the warning signs of burnout. Meanwhile, learn to say “no” and be OK with it.
Burnout happens when you find yourself trying to “do it all” and falling short. You can lessen the stress by delegating tasks, shifting your priorities or just being realistic about how much time you have in a day. The word “no” needs no explanation and will start you down the path of recognizing the sources of burnout.
Acknowledge the damage and reverse it by managing stress and seeking support. Stop numbing with noise.
You don’t always have to be moving, catching up, or optimizing yourself and your surrounds 24/7. Let yourself just be and reflect as this is sometimes exactly what your body and mind need most. Disconnect and take regular breaks where decompressing is the only objective. By doing this regularly, you’ll have more energy to make progress when you need it most.
Build your resilience to stress by taking care of your physical and emotional health. Create time for yourself.
It’s easy to overextend ourselves by trying to do too much at once. Schedule personal time every single day, even for just 10 minutes. There is always something to do, but everyone can take 10 minutes for themselves to do something personally enjoyable and fulfilling.
At Florida National University, We Care
Florida National University cares about its student body and wants each and every student to achieve the highest of his or her ability. If you are having difficulties, please visit with one of the counselors in our Student Services Office to help find resources that can help you.