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Why is Academic Burnout So Normalized?

This is a question I have been meaning to explore for quite a while now.

Most of us know what academic burnout is; I’m sure most of us have also experienced it. For those who don’t know, academic burnout is the feeling of helplessness you experience after tirelessly working on your schoolwork. It’s a feeling of defeat, of you thinking, “I cannot possibly do more work.” Most of us will experience it right before a school break, after working on our academics for months at a time with no stopping.

But why is academic burnout something that is so common and considered normal?

I know firsthand how exhausting college can be. Especially this year, I’m having a bit of a hard time transferring back to in-person classes after the mostly online, COVID-19 year we had. College is stressful enough, but trying to readjust your work and study habits back to the way they were pre-pandemic is even more challenging.

Personally, I think the root of academic burnout started way back in elementary school. Our education system places the highest honor on those who succeed academically. At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter if you’re good at anything else, you just need to keep your grades up. And this concept all stems from the idea that if you don’t go to college and get a job and make lots of money, you will not succeed in the capitalist society that America is built on.

Obviously, that is only one way of looking at it, but it’s the perspective I find to be most likely. Think about they way trade school is regarded. It’s inherently frowned upon. Why? Because instead of going to college to pursue academics, you are perfecting something that may have had no impact on your K-12 education.

Our society places such a heavy burden on everyone to be academically successful, even if that is not your strong suit.

But how does this relate to academic burnout? Let’s think about it this way. Say you’re an average student, mainly Bs with a couple of As or Cs in there. You may spend hours and hours plugging away at your studies, hoping to become the above average student you have always wanted to be. Eventually, after years of this work, you will become tired out.

That is just a general example. For me, alike many others, academics is where I thrive, I’m not super good at anything else. All throughout elementary, middle and high school, I was a model student. Honor roll every quarter, glowing extracurriculars and even a job. I was constantly praised for it by my school and I took pride in all my schoolwork. Around junior year, I began to take AP classes along with my normal accelerated courses. All of a sudden, school became very, very hard. My As turned into Bs and Cs, and that praise that I usually got on my work disappeared.

For a while, I felt very lost. I didn’t understand how to improve myself, so I threw myself into my work for hours on end. Sitting as a sophomore in college now, academically, I’m exhausted. My attention span for work, which used to be hours, is an hour or two at best. I now am not upset by Bs and Cs and I find myself even aiming for them at times. I know this isn’t because my brain capacity has diminished, I’m just so tired.

So let’s bring it back to my original question. Why is this academic burnout so normalized?

I think what makes this issue even slightly normalized is simply how many people experience this. I can list off at least 15 people I know that have pushed themselves to the absolute limit when it comes to school work.

I will say that schools are beginning to push mental health concerns within the education curriculum. But I think schools need address the root of the problem, which starts back in elementary school. As our world continuously becomes more stressful, school should be a place to safely express yourself and perfect your skills. Education should not be a source of stress, but one of opportunity.

Emma Belica

Geneseo '24

Emma Belica is a sophomore at Geneseo, she's majoring in Biology and minoring in Environmental Studies. She loves reading, writing, yoga, and the outdoors. She is also very excited to be here :)
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