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The Semester Life Cycle: My Experience with Burnout in College

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Winthrop chapter.
the beginning

As a college student, my feelings throughout the semester seem to come in waves. To begin, I’m excited: new semester, new me. This year is going to be the one where I excel in my classes, where I don’t procrastinate, and where I never, ever fall behind. That’s what I tell myself, even though I know it’s not true. I make spreadsheets, use a planner, and keep up with journaling. And I get to see my friends again! I know later on I’m going to write about my mental and academic struggles, but my joy of beginning a new semester is real. I’m aware this is not a universal experience, I’ve just always been the nerdy type to enjoy back-to-school season.

the balance

Then the semester truly begins to hit. I remember: Oh yeah, I actually do have work, and it is going to be difficult. It takes a bit of adjusting, perhaps a few emails to professors and sessions of office hours, but I get the hang of it eventually. Everything is a learning curve. Especially in the fall semester, going from three months with no schoolwork to constantly having assignments due, on top of family life, social life, and work life, is a big shift. But I get there. It can’t be smooth sailing all the time, but it’s still a good time overall.

The burnout

However, all it takes is one assignment, one heavy week, one instance to change from balance to burnout. Unfortunately, this is exactly what I’m in right now: extreme academic burnout. Suddenly, that Thanksgiving break is more exciting than winter break, even though I know once I get back the workload will only get harder. I’ve fallen behind on assignments causing my grades to slip, which is rare for me as a high-scoring student. It’s a lot to handle all at once. It drains on my mental health, badly. The classes that I once enjoyed begin to feel like chores. Even the simplest of assignments starts feeling overwhelming.

The thing about burnout is that it leads to a domino effect. That one assignment that was one day late? Well, it’s pointless to turn it in now, I’ll just take the zero. I call it “prioritizing my mental health,” without realizing the irony of how it harms me in the long run. This is especially true once the dominos cascade downward. One missing assignment becomes two, becomes three, and so on. Or: It’s fine, because I’m still doing good in all my other classes! Which again, is helpful to remember, but I have always been someone who cares about grades. Plus, with scholarships and credits on the line, I don’t exactly have the room to fail a class.

Anna Schultz-Girl On Computer Stress
Anna Schultz / Her Campus
The breakthrough

Eventually, I find the urge to snap out of my burnout. The situation becomes all too real, and somehow I need to start fixing it before there’s a point of no return. There’s a non-zero chance that I’m already at the point of no return, but I want to somehow turn this around to improve my grades and mental stability: so what’s the plan?

First, contacting my professors and attending their office hours. At the very least, I can share my perspective. Rather than emailing them the day grades are due and begging for a curve or other extra credit, telling them my struggle will hopefully allow them to give me some grace and potentially be more inclined to help me. If I’m sincere, no harm is done, right? That’s the hope. It’s a start.

Second, I’ve considered starting counseling. Dealing with the mental burnout is hard, and even harder to do on my own. I know I’m never completely on my own, but I can only imagine that having a second opinion or a listening ear would be helpful. I’ve never been to therapy before, but with Winthrop offering free hours of counseling each semester, I want to see if it would be worth a shot.

Last, try getting back into my old habits. Sometimes the little things, such as journaling, can seem insignificant or a waste of time, especially compared to the mounds of schoolwork. However, it helps to keep me organized in daily life, which I can only hope will transfer into my academic life.

The wave of the semester I’m currently in is the burnout phase. This has certainly been established. However, my goal is to turn it around and wind up in a wave of breaking through into recovery and success. With only a few weeks left before winter break, I know that these problems are temporary. I’ll continue in my attempts to remind myself that everything will smooth over in one way or another. It may not be ideal, it definitely won’t be easy, but it will be okay. Burnout happens to everyone. (If you, somehow, do not experience burnout, you are very lucky.) With the stress of college assignments and… life, as a whole, it’s understandable to feel stressed and fall behind. That doesn’t make you a bad student or person. I just hope everyone is able to break through and reach that potential that the beginning-phase-you has been expecting this whole semester.

My name is Jess and I’m currently a junior Theatre Education major at Winthrop! Alongside being passionate about both theatre and education, I love all things Survivor (show), Taylor Swift, and an assortment of other artists and games! I’m excited to professionally ramble about my interests and whatever else crosses my mind!