Photo credit: Denis Novikov | Getty
SNHU reports 85% of college students felt overwhelmed at some point last year. Photo: Denis Novikov | Getty

Am I experiencing academic burnout?

71% of students experienced burnout last year. Academic burnout is a paramount obstacle for college students trying to find a healthy work-life balance.


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Academic burnout is a paramount obstacle for college students trying to find a healthy work, school, and life balance.

A student may experience a negative emotional, physical, and mental reaction that results in prolonged periods of frustration, exhaustion, and lack of motivation increasing anxiety or feelings of depression. 

A study conducted by The Ohio State University’s Office of the Chief Wellness Officer determined that student’s lack of mental health prioritization results in developing an “unhealthy coping mechanism,” especially students experiencing anxiety, depression, and even burnout. 

Some of these students resorted to vaping and tobacco use. 

“In August 2020, the first time we did the survey, student burnout was at 40%. In April 2021, it was 71%,” said Bernadette Melnyk, chief wellness officer and dean of the College of Nursing at Ohio State. “The survey really brought students’ continued mental health struggles to light, and it is crucial that we arm students with the resilience, cognitive-behavioral skills and coping skills that we know are protective against mental health disorders.”

The demands students’ face make them more susceptible to burnout and lack of academic efficacy. 

“Most people feel overwhelmed when the estimated time needed for their tasks and priorities exceeds the amount of time available for completion of those tasks and priorities,” said Nicole Rutherford, Academic Advisor Team Leader at Southern New Hampshire (SNHU) in a statement. “People can also feel overwhelmed when unpredicted circumstances are forced to take precedence over previously determined priorities.” Whether it’s a family emergency or an unexpected bill, when a wrench is thrown into the works, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by life.

At the time, SNHU reported that 85% of college students felt overwhelmed at some point in the past year, with 30% reporting their level of stress had a negative effect on their academic performance. 

Burnout Symptoms

  • Lack of motivation to attend classes or start assignments
  • Loss of confidence in academic abilities
  • Feelings of anxiety or depression
  • Increased irritability or anger
  • Feeling mental and physical exhaustion
  • Inability to meet important deadlines
  • Inability to concentrate on tasks
  • Lack of creativity 
  • High frequency of illness

Each student has a unique set of needs that have to be met to optimize overall health. Overlooking these needs can have negative consequences. 

Negative Consequences associated with academic burnout

  • Change in appetite or sleep habits
  • Feeling helpless and hopeless
  • Increasing negative outlook
  • Isolation
  • Using food, drugs, or alcohol to cope

It is imperative that students understand their limitations and stressors in order to find ways to meet their needs. For some, making time to enable activities, physical exercise, and going outside. But others might benefit from a healthy work-life balance and taking baby steps towards improving mental health and academic performance. 

If burnout symptoms are left untreated “can evolve into psychiatric and physical health disorders,” as reported by Eastern Washington University. 

“Symptoms of depression can be much more intense,” the Mental Health America (MHA) said. “Depression causes powerful mood changes, such as painful sadness and despair. You may feel exhausted and unable to act.” If you’re experiencing symptoms of depression, make sure you speak to a doctor.

Tips to Avoid Burnout in College

  • Learn to say no
  • Find time to self-care
  • Prioritize sleep and exercise 
  • Learn to set boundaries
  • Set reasonable goals 
  • Limit contact with negative people
  • Don’t be afraid to seek help



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