How to deal with academic burn-out

12 April 2022

Olivia Roberts

Whilst studying at university, it is easy to get overwhelmed with your workload. Feeling stressed and worried is normal from time to time, however if these feelings are intense and causing you to feel drained then you may be experiencing academic burnout. Recognising feelings of academic burnout can help you to overcome it and prevent it from happening in the future! Here we have some tips on recognising burnout and how you can overcome it.


What is academic burn-out?

A recent survey taken by 2,000 adults in the UK, commissioned by Arctic Coffee, has found that 42% percent of people are feeling more exhausted than in previous years, with 67% of these being 25-34 years old. Burn-out is a state of both physical and mental exhaustion that can be caused by long-term stress and feelings of being overwhelmed. Burn-out was officially recognised by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2019 and has been included in the International Classification of Disease (ICD-11) as an ‘occupational phenomenon’.

How do I know if I’m experiencing academic burn-out?

Stress is normal, to a certain extent, during university with deadlines, coursework, and lectures to attend. However, you may be experiencing academic burn-out if you feel as if you are unable to keep up with your commitments and are feeling generally unmotivated. Here are some ways to recognise academic burn-out:

  • Feeling fatigued/difficulty sleeping
  • Lacking motivation
  • Declining performance
  • Feeling anxious and overwhelmed.
What causes academic burn-out?

There are many different factors that may contribute to academic burn-out as it develops over a longer period. Some causes include work overload, financial issues, and time management struggles. Figuring out what is causing you to experience feelings of burn-out is important in tackling the problem and preventing it from affecting your personal/professional life.

If you have recognised feelings of burn-out, you can try making changes to help overcome these feelings and enjoy your studies again!

How to combat academic burn-out

Set reasonable short-term goals

Setting achievable short-term goals can help you to start feeling motivated again. For example, create a plan for an upcoming assignment, listen to a lecture recording or read a small section of a book or paper. Separating large tasks into smaller, manageable tasks can help things seem much less overwhelming.

Make a list of things causing stress

Try making a list of the things causing you to worry, along with a couple of steps you can take to reduce the stress it is causing. If you have missed a few lectures in a certain module – you could plan to meet with the module leader or your supervisor/advisor to get some support to help you catch up. Deadlines may be causing you extra stress, so try setting up a timetable to help you tackle these.

Saying no

Social activities, volunteering and work experience are important to give yourself time to do things you enjoy and gain relevant experience; however, it can become overwhelming if you have taken on too much. Assess the different commitments that you have and identify the most important; you may need to take a step back by missing out on extracurricular activities during exams, turning down some social activities or even letting go of some of these commitments completely. Although it is important to challenge yourself, it is also crucial to know your limits.

Find time to switch off

With some parts of university life still taking place online it is more difficult than before to completely ‘switch off’. Try to set hours that you work everyday and outside of these hours don’t answer any late-night emails or set any zoom meetings. Turn off notifications for appsused for university work when you are not within your ‘working hours’ as it can be tempting to check for updates on a grade, group project or reply to an email as soon as it comes through.

Find a community

Finding a group of people on your course can help you to develop a support system. Online learning can feel isolating and make you feel like you are tackling your course alone with little support. With face-to-face learning returning, being a part of a group can help in sharing new ideas and information, and reduce feelings of isolation.

Academic burn-out can affect anyone and it is important to try and recognise feelings of burnout in order to tackle these and make changes that can help you enjoy your studies again!To find more tips on navigating university life, such as staying motivated and preparing for interviews, you can read our blogs here.

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