Students don’t expect their car to start on an empty tank or for their text to send when their phone isn’t charged. But some students do expect to be able to go to work, study for hours and attend classes all while running on little sleep and nonnutritious food.

It’s no secret, college life may require some late nights and hard work — but doing so over long periods of time can have negative effects. Students who live like this on a regular basis may experience burnout.

Burnout is a state of fatigue that causes some to feel uninterested and hopeless due to too much work-related stress, said Blanca McGee, clinical social worker and therapist. Understanding burnout can help students prevent their energy from dwindling as they set up to tackle the second half of the semester.

Identifying burnout

Burnout has specific symptoms, said Susan Biali Haas, physician and stress management speaker. Haas, who has spent over 20 years educating the public on burnout, said there are three pillars when it comes to identifying burnout.

The first one is experiencing emotional exhaustion, the feeling of not knowing how you’re going to continue on, she said. The second one is feeling more cynical, negative or depersonalized — some people begin to no longer feel like themselves. Lastly, those experiencing burnout eventually perform more slowly and become less productive. This often leads people to doubt their abilities, only making the burnout worse, she added.

Haas said all three are necessary for burnout; however, there is a spectrum. Burnout occurs over a period of time, but it can be as short as two months or a semester, she said.

Differences between burnout and stress

Usually when you have a bad day, you go to sleep and wake up, and the next day doesn’t feel as bad, McGee said. A night’s rest can remedy normal stress, but burnout consists of a daily feeling of hopelessness and tiredness, she said.

Stress isn’t what’s bad, Haas said. It’s the kind of stress that exceeds our capacities that results in burnout, she said.

Causes of burnout

A lack of sufficient sleep, an unhealthy diet, lack of exercise and a lack of balance between workload and personal time all lead to burnout, Haas said.

Students often work the entire day into the night until they fall asleep, said Wendy Patrick, business ethics lecturer and motivational speaker. She calls this a “workaholic hangover.”

“It’s kind of like feeling hungover because you haven’t given your body or your mind any time to recharge,” she said.

This hungover feeling will feel more consistent if practiced often and will eventually lead to burnout, she said.

Prevention and Remedies

To prevent and remedy the feeling of burnout, healthy lifestyle habits are paramount, Haas said. Haas stresses that lifestyle choices such as getting enough sleep, exercising, eating healthy foods and learning to pace their coursework instead of cramming it are essential to one’s well-being.

“These are not frivolous extras,” she said. “These are actually the best success strategies.”

Students can make reasonable goals, Haas said. They don’t have to spend hours at the gym, but they should make sure to get a form of cardio at least three times a week, she said.

McGee said if a student is feeling an overwhelming amount of burnout, she recommends they speak to a mental health professional.

Severe burnout can lead to mental health complications such as depression and health complications such as immune problems, increased susceptibility and autoimmune diseases, Haas said.


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