Burning up and burning out. COVID exaggerated an ancient college problem: burnout. Some days it seems like student life just cycles through again and again. Go to class, take a test, study, go to bed. It can get exhausting after a while, no matter where you happen to find yourself in your college experience.
Read on for some background information about burnout and tips to fight it.
10. You are Far From Alone
Many students experience that burnt-out feeling during college. The workload? Stressful. The hours? Intense. The payoff? Too far away and scary to think about. That recipe can often lead to disaster. And for students who already struggle—forget it. Making time for all of your priorities in college stresses students out. You need to study, go to class, finish your pile of assignments, attend any extra-curriculars and make time for a social life so you don’t go completely insane. No one can handle that without burning out eventually.
“Students may feel overwhelmed, unhappy, less motivated, have a more negative outlook on life,” Drake University Counseling Center therapist Danielle Green said. “[They] can feel detached and have reduced work quality.”
Burnout doesn’t just haunt students. Faculty can feel the embers of burnout creeping on them too. Amid the pandemic, many professors finally realized what students went through each semester.
9. COVID and Burnout
The fight against COVID-19 on many college campuses takes students out of the classroom and puts them into their dorm rooms, apartments and even their childhood homes. Attending in-person classes and activities remains part of the joy of college. The experiences, the people and the environment are often a needed change of pace for college freshmen. Many incoming freshmen in 2020 found themselves unable to experience it in the same manner. COVID left fewer parties, fewer club meetings and fewer ways to engage with the campus community.
Burnout-an already epic problem-suddenly found itself looming larger than ever in the lives of students. It seemed there was no escape from the endless stream of zoom meetings and online assignments. From class to advisor meetings, to chapter meetings everything was done through a virtual interface. Suddenly, the blame for exhaustion could not fall upon the long walks across campus. Instead it was coming from sitting in a desk chair all day without moving. No wonder everyone was burnt out.
During the summer of 2021, COVID numbers continue to fall. Towards the end of June, the United States saw less than 10,000 cases added per day. With every passing day, the likelihood of returning to a semi normal college experience grows. Hopefully, we will find zoom meetings a thing of the past. Burnout can return to being more focused on that terrible walk across campus in the freezing cold of a Midwestern February, or the blazing heat of a desert August.
8. Keep Burnout Contained
Set boundaries between your work life and social life. Reserve times for studying and completing assignments, while at the same time make time for yourself. Schedule time to get a manicure, dance in your dorm, or take a scalding hot and insanely long shower. Do what makes you happy come and make sure you have time for it.
Burnout won’t disappear with COVID. Burnout lurked around college campuses for longer than this author lived. It’s something everybody deals with, on and off college campuses. It’s a totally normal part of life, but you can’t let it consume you. Dealing with burnout may seem impossible. You begin to feel stuck in the endless days of working hard that it gets hard to see the light. Fear not! Plenty of methods exist to combat that pesky burnt-out vibe after a rough semester.
7. Take a Break
Stand up and stretch after sitting behind the desk all day. But most importantly? Get away from that computer! Sometimes the biggest help can be simply putting space between you and the assignments. Get out of your room and head outside for some fresh air after a day cooped up inside. Take a well-deserved break!
“When I feel burnt out I feel that the only way I can get back into things is to take a break. If I’m feeling burnt-out, I’m probably over doing myself and need a few days to do what feels right, whether that’s hanging out with friends or just sitting on the couch and being unproductive for a day,” Webster University sophomore Audrey Wubbena said.
Sometimes, you find yourself with just too much to complete in your planner before the day ends and need a little time to recuperate. Maybe you only get five minutes to yourself in between classes. Utilize those few precious minutes to do something else for yourself.
6. In the Palm of Your Hand
We have a great distraction tool right in our pockets: your phone! Your phone holds jams to play when you find yourself down, yoga videos on YouTube when you need a good stretch, mindless games to distract you in class and, of course, the-end-all-be-all of our generation: social media. While not a perfect solution, getting on your phone for a few minutes, when used sparingly, can help alleviate some stress.
“When I’m starting to feel burnt out, I find myself avoiding schoolwork and wanting to work more or do anything to avoid it,” University of Northern Iowa Senior Taylor Wallerich said. “To not get behind I try to give myself breaks throughout to scroll through social media or do something to take my mind off it.”
Again, use caution using technology to alleviate your burnout. You can also experience burnout from social media, so if you struggle with using technology in moderation, maybe skip this tip. Again, experiment. Find out which method works best for you!
5. Stay Busy
The temptation with burnout often ends up putting off all that work that accumulates through the semester, simply because you can’t handle that one econ reading that’s right in front of you. Instead, find something else to keep your mind and body busy. It’ll be easier to start that reading if you go for a walk rather than take a nap.
“Some things that I do that help me take my mind off my worries is to do a craft like sewing or painting as it gets my hands working and brings me out of my stress and into something completely different,” Augustana College Junior Gwen Flannery said. “At times when it seems like I don’t have a moment in my day to stop to relax, just taking a minute or two to breathe and drink some water gives me enough energy to keep going.”
Pick up a hobby that makes you feel productive. Knit scarves for you friends, paint mini pictures on mini canvases, pick up a book or even download a language learning app and brush up on your high school Spanish skills! There’s a hobby out there for you that’ll make you feel better when everything else stresses you out.
4. Get Out!
Another great option is to put some physical distance between you and your problems. Find a buddy—one who has a car or who doesn’t mind public transportation—and get off campus. Find a local park, museum or even a Target and walk around. Take an hour and forget about your stress. Maybe make a new friend and get a change of scenery.
If you find yourself low on time, put down your pencil and closes your laptop. Take a deep breath and take a walk around whatever building you find yourself in. Put in your earbuds, listen to your favorite song and just walk up and down the hallway until you feel a little better and more clearheaded. It’s easy to get stuck mentally when your body is stuck too.
Try to get out of your liminal space! Liminal space refers to a space you occupy a lot. If you do most of your homework from your desk in your dorm, that’s a liminal space. Try to find a new spot on campus, somewhere you haven’t studied before, and see if it helps get the juices flowing. A change of scenery doesn’t sound like it’ll change much but putting yourself in a new environment helps breaks bad study habits and clear mental blocks.
3. New Self-Care Routines
If you find yourself lacking time, try meditating. If you’ve never tried it, it may sound dumb, but giving yourself 5 minutes to simply breathe and try and think about nothing can actually be really calming.
Meditating might not sound like your vibe, so take a small walk around your dorm, library or whatever building you find yourself in and listen to your favorite song. If you’re feeling antisocial and have a little extra time, watch your favorite movie. Do something you enjoy and that works for you. Paint your nails, do some or bake some cookies for you and your friends in the dorm kitchen.
“When I feel burnout coming on, I find a way to distance myself from it,” Southeastern Community College (Iowa) Sophomore Isabella Gillispie said. “I may take a couple of days off. If I can’t do that I listen to music. Music is my safe place where I can recenter myself. My last option is to talk to a friend or family member of how I feel.”
Taking care of yourself is a great way to fight burnout. It won’t make it disappear, but it can make you come back to your work with less stress and a new mindset.
2. Listen to What Your Body is Telling You
Burnout can also mean your semester may be too much. If you feel exhausted every day, can’t focus or just want a break it may mean you bit off more than you can chew—especially if college is new to you. Take a look around and see if something can give. Maybe that one credit lab that’s sucking the life out of you can wait until next semester. Maybe you can pursue a smaller role in that club you joined with friends. You might need more time for yourself.
Burnout sucks, but it can still remind us of our limits. It can also remind us we need to take better care of ourselves, especially at college-age. We’re still growing in so many ways, you need to remember to be kind to you!
1. Burnout Doesn’t Last Forever
Burnout, much like college, does not last forever. Someday winter break will arrive and you’ll have a few weeks with no school related stress. And before you know you’ll be graduated. Burnout probably won’t end with college, but the nice thing about jobs? Most offer some paid time off for you to get away and recharge!
So no matter how hard the semester hits you or how far away the end may seem, it really will sneak up on you. One minute you’re meeting the kids on your freshman floor and the next thing you know you’re walking at graduation! And remember, the semester will be over before you know it.