Academic burnout: How to recover from it

Oct 18, 2020

Academic burnout can result in exhaustion, frustration and a lack of motivation. This has negative effects on students emotionally, physically, mentally and academically. 

In this post, we will help you to overcome academic burnout by sharing some actionable tips and advice. 

Overcoming academic burnout will allow you to enjoy your time at university and create more balance in your life whilst helping you to still attain top grades. 

What is academic burnout? 

Burnout is a state of chronic stress that can lead to individuals no longer being able to function effectively on a personal a professional level. 

People experiencing burnout may experience: 

  • Physical and emotional exhaustion
  • Detachment and feelings of cynicism 
  • Feelings of lack of accomplishment 

Burnout is not something that happens overnight. It is not to be confused with feeling tired due to pulling a few all-nighters on the run-up to a coursework deadline. Burnout creeps up on people over a prolonged period of time. 

The signs of academic burnout

Symptoms of academic burnout can include feeling overwhelmed and emotionally drained, losing interest in academic activities, experiencing physical symptoms such as headaches or stomachaches, having trouble sleeping, and feeling detached from friends and family.

  • Physical signs of burnout include chronic fatigue, insomnia, forgetfulness and anger.
    Detachment and feelings of cynicism may initiate feelings of isolation, pessimism and detachment 
  • Lack of accomplishment Students may feel less productive and have poor academic performance 

What causes academic burnout?

There are several factors that can contribute to academic burnout, including high academic demands, a lack of social support, and a lack of balance between academic work and other aspects of life. Students who are perfectionists, have high expectations of themselves, or have difficulty coping with failure may also be more susceptible to burnout.

Overcoming academic burnout 

If you feel as though you have burnt the candle at both ends and are feeling overwhelmed with university life follow some of our tips!

Here’s how to recover from academic burnout:

#1: Make a list of all of the things that are causing you to feel stressed, anxious or worried. 

Write down all of the things that are causing you to feel uneasy. Next to each point write down at least one way you could reduce the impact it is having on you. 

For example: 

  • Stressor: You might have fallen behind in a module
    Resolution: Book an appointment with the module leader to get help 
  • Stressor: You have a fast-approaching deadline and you haven’t started work for it
    Resolution: Re-arrange your timetable to make more time to focus on your coursework 

#2: Say “no” 

University life can be difficult. You essentially need to balance your social life with your academics. 

Having a balanced lifestyle is key during university. However, it can sometimes feel overwhelming if you have other commitments such as a part-time job, or if you run a society

Saying no can be difficult. However, when you are in the process of overcoming academic burnout, you may need to:

  • Turn down friends and flatmates inviting you to nights out 
  • Take some time off from your part-time job
  • Temporarily skip some of your extracurricular activities 

#3: Get help from your support system 

Even though you may be living on campus and enjoy the independence that comes with doing so, going back home temporarily may help you to defeat burnout. 

Moving back home with your family may take some pressure off as they may be able to support you. The support may be small gestures such as preparing your meals or helping with your washing. However, these small gestures may free up a bit of time, allowing you to focus on the solutions you wrote down in #1. 

Whilst you are a student at university, you will have lots of help available to you. You will have the support of your university which can help you with academic support, mental health support, physical support, financial support and more.

You’re not alone, whatever situation you are in, there is someone who will be able to help you.

academic burnout
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

#4: Take breaks 

Many people struggle to take sufficient breaks. Taking breaks is particularly important when studying. 

  • When studying, take frequent breaks. You may wish to use the Pomodoro technique 
  • Apply the spaced repetition method when studying to learn information more effectively 
  • Schedule time in your calendar to relax and pursue activities that help you to relax 
  • Aim to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day – here is a guide outlining how much sleep you should get per night according to your age.
  • Try to get some fresh air every day. Going for walks may help you to de-stress.

#5: Socialise with others outside of uni

Socialising mainly with students can become a bit overwhelming as other students will be essentially in the same boat. They will also be stressed by similar things. They may have the propensity to speak a lot about exam grades, and course material.

Speaking with others in your network who aren’t students will help you to get fresh perspectives.

#6: Study smart not hard

When it comes to assessments for each of your modules, ensure that you understand exactly what your tutors are looking for.

Your lecturers will recommend lots of books and reports to read. It is vital that you quickly determine what the most important information is.

Read our post on how to get a first-class degree for more tips on how to strategically get top grades.

#7: Reinforce effort not outcome

If you are determined to get a first-class degree classification, you may put a lot of pressure on yourself to perform academically.

Getting a first-class degree requires consistently achieving high grades which can be demanding.

You may be prone to be very hard on yourself if you underperform which can result in stress and academic burnout.

Whilst grades are important, they are not more important than your health. Also, a top grade is a good personal achievement, however, it is not a reflection of how employable you are and a degree alone won’t impress graduate recruiters.

In the workplace, employers will be particularly keen to see how resilient you are, and how you react when things don’t go to plan.

With all of your assignments, do your best, and whatever the outcome, learn from your feedback.

#8: Set up a study group

Set up small study groups with people on your course. Use these sessions to revise for specific exams. Group study gives you the opportunity to test your knowledge by helping others.

You can also use this time to get help from other students.

Working with other students may also help you to stop procrastinating.

#9: Take good care of yourself

No matter how busy you become with your university work, do not neglect your self-care.

Make sure that you get enough sleep, eat well, drink plenty of water and exercise regularly.

#10: Rediscover your passion for the subject that you are studying

It can be easy to become so overwhelmed with your studies that you lose sight of why you decided to go to university in the first place.

Think back to why you decided to go to university in the first place and rediscover why you chose to study your subject.

Perhaps you went to university with a specific career goal in mind. Use the time that you have at university wisely by focusing on your employability skills.

Apply for work experience and internships, work on creating an achievement-based CV and invest in some one-to-one career coaching.


Magda Weronika

Recovering from academic burnout

Recovering from academic burnout won’t be overnight. You may need several weeks to de-stress and feel less overwhelmed.

Be sure to implement the tips in this post in order to help you. Once you begin to feel better, it’s a good idea to put a long-term strategy in place to keep your stress levels down during your studies.

Here at Graduate Coach, we help students, graduates and career changers to get internships and graduate-level jobs.

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Featured Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

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