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How to Avoid Burnout in College


As the 2019 school year kicks off, students are finally finding a reprieve from the onslaught of back to school commercials. Even though students are (almost) safe from those commercials, the labors of the upcoming year have just begun. New classes, new friends, and new challenges await every student. The amount of work can seem overwhelming and insurmountable, especially for incoming freshmen, prompting hours of time spent reading textbooks and slaving away in the library. While hard work pays off, it can also have its consequences. Students who find themselves too focused on getting good grades may overwork themselves, prompting what most students know as “burnout.”


As defined by HelpGuide, an international organization devoted to mental health and wellbeing, burnout is “a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress.” While students need to put effort into their classes, too much work with no play can lead to a buildup of stress. Just like a pendulum swings, some overly studious individuals may feel a shift in their behavior: their study habits regress from working all the time to hardly working at all. Students who experience this shift have effectively burned through all their motivation and are left feeling tired, uninterested, and unmotivated in their courses. 

Burnout is an important topic to discuss because, as freshmen enter college, they are astutely aware that college workloads are considerably more intense than high school curriculums. Parents, teachers, and mentors ingrain this warning into students out of fear that, if they don’t, freshmen won’t put effort into their coursework and their grades will suffer. These mentors get so caught up in the consequences of studying too little that they don’t think about the consequences of studying too much. 


So, is this a sign that you should put away the books and go party? No! Studying is imperative to success in college, as are attending classes and staying engaged. No reward comes easily, so hard work and dedication are essential to earning a degree. Sorry, but those hours writing papers, taking notes, and reading textbooks aren’t exactly optional. College is structured in a way that gives students more free time than high school offers, but most of this time isn’t really “free.” It’s expected of students to spend more time on course material outside the classroom than in lecture in order to fully understand and apply it.


So if you’re an ambitious and diligent student, how do you avoid burnout? The answer lies in finding a balance. If you work hard, play hard. When you return to your dorm at the end of a long day in lectures, labs, and the library, take some time to relax. Watch an episode of the series you’re obsessed with, read a book, or play a video game. Go to the gym and work out your frustrations. If you’ve had a productive day and there are no looming deadlines or big tests to worry about, take a break- you’ve earned it!


On weekends, especially, cut out a little chunk of time for yourself. Go grab a coffee with some friends or try doing something new, like hiking or cultivating your own indoor garden. Spend time exploring your interests and finding hobbies. If you know you’ve been working hard, there’s no reason to feel guilty about taking some time for yourself. Not every minute of your day must be productive. 


Between classes, clubs, sports, and jobs, college can be a lot of work. When students get lost in the workload, they can forget to take a minute for themselves. If they find a balance, however, every day seems less like a battle and more like a step in the right direction. By taking some time for yourself, you’ll have the energy and motivation to make the most out of your four years. 


If you’re curious and want to learn more about the topic of burnout, check out HelpGuide.org for signs, symptoms, and how to escape it. 



Alexandra Gates

Elizabethtown '22

Alexandra is a sophomore biology/pre-med major at Elizabethtown College. She enjoys reading, eating dry cereal because she can't afford milk, and spending time outdoors. She is a firm believer in the inherent magic of petting dogs and drinking water every day.
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