8 Ways to tackle student burnout

20 Apr 2021
By Hazel M., Freelance writer, journalist and total bookworm. at

University can be harder than you think, and the student burnout is real. So, how do you combat the stress when it feels like there’s no way out?

The good news is that there are ways to get help, because dealing with student burnout should never be swept aside. With big deadlines, tough exams and the added pressure of making new friends, all while finding your way as a student, it can hit you quicker than you realise.

But let’s cut into some of the finer details first.

What is student burnout?

Burnout is when you’re so stressed that you end up feeling ill or emotionally drained. Often, it can lead to feeling negative all the time, and you may lose any motivation to carry on chasing your goals or even seeing friends.

And it’s a growing problem, with almost three quarters (74%) of adults claiming to have felt overwhelmed or unable to cope because of their stress at some point in just 12 months.

So, what does that look like for students?

Key signs that burnout is starting to kick in could be when you start losing interest in your course and increasingly struggle to meet important deadlines – not ideal if you’re hoping to actually use this degree in the future.

Other signs to spot include:

  • Increased feelings of anxiety or depression
  • Lack of confidence in abilities
  • Feeling overwhelmed/unable to cope or increasingly stressed
  • Increase in bad habits - overeating, nail-biting, staying up late
  • Physical complaints - headaches, sore muscles, jaw tension
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Feeling exhausted – even if you’ve slept well

The most important thing here is to make sure you’re looking out for those signs and addressing the issue early on. That way, you can start making a plan for moving forward and prevent it from happening again.

Fortunately, because burnout is often tied to work load and habits, it is something that can be addressed by lifestyle changes (unlike other mental illnesses which may require more intensive support).

Below, I’ve highlighted some of the key things you can do right now to say goodbye to burnout or stop it from happening in the first place.

How to tackle student burnout

1. Manage your priorities

Unsurprisingly, burnout is most commonly an issue when you’re trying to balance too much on your plate. So, think about your priorities.

For example, if you’re trying to fit in all of your studies, while also keeping up commitments with various societies or volunteer jobs, it’s probably a good time to start cutting back.

Take a look at what is most important and make sure your timetable is less overwhelming. You might feel bad for dropping certain things, but they can always be picked up again when things are calmer.

2. Make time for fun

That being said, it’s also important to make time for fun. If you’re finding that studies are taking over your life, make sure you’re scheduling in some down time.

This could include catching up with friends or watching a movie. If you plan ahead, it should give you the freedom to relax, instead of spending your free time worrying about the work you think you should be doing.

3. Get organised

So, the key, it seems, is to get organised. While this sounds super simple, I know from experience that this isn’t necessarily the case.

We can get way too distracted by other things going on around us and sticking to a schedule can be hard – but it will help you combat that oncoming burnout.

Create a realistic study plan that allows for both study and fun, so you don’t have to feel guilty when you’re having a time out. It will also keep those stress levels down as you get closer to deadline and realise you’ve already done most of the work.

Essentially? It’s all about work life balance.

4. Just say ‘no’

I am one of the worst people when it comes to saying ‘no’ to invitations. I genuinely struggle to let people down if they’re trying to make plans with me, even if I know I’ve got other commitments I need to be focused on.

The problem is, if you say ‘yes’ to everything, you’ll end up trying to juggle way too much and, when it comes down to actually doing those plans, your heart won’t be in it.

Explain to your friends or family that you need some time to focus on yourself, but you’ll be happy to catch up with them when things are less busy.

5. Get in that daily exercise

Even just a half an hour walk a day can get you in the right mindset to tackle anything. If you’re feeling particularly overwhelmed, give yourself a quick break and step outside for some air.

In fact, getting out into nature is recommended as a great way to give yourself a mental reprieve. Don’t worry if you’re in a city though, here are five ways to make the most of it right where you are.

6. Eat healthy

Eating junk food can hamper your efforts to feel more motivated, especially if it's full of sugar and bad carbs. You may get a quick energy boost, but the crash back to earth after just isn’t worth it.

And while healthy food might be the last thing you want when you’re feeling a bit rubbish, it’ll go a long way to helping you combat those feelings of fatigue.

Try making some of these healthy revision snack swaps to stay on top of your game.

7. Take a social media break

Social media can be great fun when it’s done in the right way, but it can also load on the pressure when you’re constantly comparing your life to others.

Taking a break from it could be just what you need to get those overwhelming feelings under control, so you can focus on what’s important without wondering what you’re missing out on.

Don’t believe me? Check out what happened when Ellie gave up Facebook for the sake of her own wellbeing.

8. Talk about it

We say this time and time again, but sometimes it just really helps to tell someone how you’re feeling. Chat with a flatmate and let them know you’re struggling – they may have some great tips or even tell you they’re feeling the same way. Undoubtedly, there is strength in solidarity.

If you feel like you can’t approach your friends, though, there are others you can reach out to as well, which we’ve outlined right here.

For more advice on health and wellbeing at university, head to the Health and Wellbeing section on the Common Room.

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When not stringing words together, can usually be found on the local beach with her cocker spaniel pup, Huey.