How to identify and avoid study burnout

It’s something that most of us experience at some point in our lives, but may not have a name for. If you can, find a quiet moment to ask yourself, are you feeling tired and stressed beyond what would be considered normal everyday fatigue? Does it seem to persist no matter what you do to combat it? Have you lost focus or motivation or find yourself procrastinating over tasks that you would once complete quickly? It is possible that you may be suffering from Burnout. It’s one of those words that seems to radiate throughout our lives right now. Taking into account everything that has happened over the last couple of years, then factoring in the added stress of studying while trying to navigate our everyday lives, can it be any wonder that we may be feeling burnt out? While it is common to feel stressed and unmotivated throughout our lives, how do we know when we have reached that tipping point from a normal amount of stress to burnout?

How to recognise burnout

There are many articles, blogs, online tests, and apps dedicated to the identification of burnout as well as providing strategies that you can utilize to help build resilience and combat burnout. But what symptoms should you be looking for? Some symptoms of burnout include:

  • Exhaustion that persists no matter how much sleep or rest you get. You just don’t seem to have any energy and are always fatigued.
  • Lack of motivation to go to work or attend classes.
  • Depression, anxiety, irritability, or boredom in previously enjoyed activities.
  • Increase of bad habits such as over or under eating, nail biting, or not taking care of yourself. 
  • Concentration issues; as well as 
  • Increase in frequency of illness due to stress or exhaustion.

For me the path to burnout began with working 38 hours a week as a store manager of a busy retail business, completing 24-30 hours a week studying for my LIS degree and utilizing the option to complete courses over the summer to cut down on the time it takes to complete my degree, as well as balancing commitments to family and friends. I found that even though I was excited to be starting new courses, my motivation to attend the online classes, and to even start the assessments, was almost non-existent. I was looking for any excuse to procrastinate until the very last minute, which in turn fed a loop of avoidance and more stress. It is a hard cycle to break free of once it begins. I was constantly exhausted and finding both my physical and mental health was suffering. My “cup” as it was, was well and truly empty. To fill it, I needed to take a break, to stop, relax and reset. I needed to focus on the things that I enjoy and that make me happy. I must admit that the first, and hardest step, in this process was to recognise that the path I was on was not a good one, and that I needed to make a change.

What can you do about it

There are many ways we can destress and build resilience, it’s just a matter of finding what works for you. This could be to take a long walk, work through a relaxing yoga flow, making time for some non-library reading, or spending quality time with family and friends. It is also important to make time to check in with yourself. This will help you to recognise the signs that you are headed towards a not so good place, and make some changes before you actually burn out. Some good resources to check out include this quick quiz which helps you identify how far along you are on the burn out scale or this blog post that helps you do a mental health check. LinkedIn Learning also has some good courses (like some of these) on managing stress and avoiding burnout.

For me, I’ll be saying no to enrolling in another class over the summer semester, taking some time to catch up with friends (maybe over a wine to two), doing some painting and getting outside and going for walks with my dog. This summer I’m focusing on me so that come next year my cup will be full and I’ll be ready and better equipped to take on the stresses of study while avoiding the behaviors that lead to burnout.

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