Above average stress levels can lead to student burnout

Jade Critchfield

More than 40 percent of college students experience above average levels of stress, according to the National College Health Assessment.

This above average stress could be leading students to burnout, a state of emotional, mental and physical exhaustion due to large workloads or large amounts of stress, said John Schull, senior psychologist at University Health Services.

Caroline Henneman, a junior public relations major, experiences burnout because of her many commitments, some of which include participating in a national public relations contest, running for Undergraduate Student Government, working two off-campus jobs and strength conditioning four days a week.  

“This semester I took on too much,” Henneman said.

Over 80 percent of college students reported feeling overwhelmed by all the things they have to do, and almost 40 percent felt so depressed that it was difficult to function, according to the National College Health Assessment.

Henneman has had moments when she’s felt overwhelmed throughout the semester. One day, she had a lot of complications in her classes, such as having a large project due in a week, an exam and a paper due on the same night and receiving a bad grade on an assignment she felt she did well. Later that day at a doctor’s appointment, she received upsetting news about her chronic illness and was prescribed more medication.

Driving back home, her gas light turned on. She sped for the nearest gas station, got pulled over and received a speeding ticket.

“I got to the gas station after all of this, and I start shaking,” Henneman said. “My hands won’t clench, and I’m crying so hard I start laughing. I think I went through four phases of emotions within five minutes. I was sad and crying, shaking and mad, laughing and hysterical and then just numb. I pumped my gas and then sat in my car and just couldn’t find the will to move. It’s like my mind shut off.”

Some signs of burnout are fatigue, insomnia, loss of appetite, anxiety, depression, lack of focus, chest pain, dizziness, shortness of breath, headaches and fainting, according to Sherrie Bourg Carter from Psychology Today.

Like depression, people experiencing burnout feel tired, lethargic, a lack of energy and, potentially, may pull away from responsibilities and loved ones, Schull said.  

“They feel demotivated,” Schull said. “They tend to be less productive, less engaged and have a more negative outlook in general.”

By recognizing signs of burnout, students can intervene early and try to receive help with their symptoms, Schull said. Students can also avoid burnout by getting enough rest, exercising, eating well, engaging in meaningful activities and staying connected to people.

Self-care is an important part of overcoming burnout as well. A 2016 study conducted by Christina Maslach, a psychology professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and Michael Leiter, a psychology professor at Deakin University, concluded that taking frequent breaks from work, developing better time-management skills, getting social support from friends and family and creating a healthy work-life balance can help combat burnout.

Another way students can prevent burnout is by having a creative outlet. According to an article published by Psychology Today in 2013, burnout can reduce a person’s ability to think accurately and flexibly. By pursuing creative activities outside of their classes, students can keep themselves inspired and motivated.  

Henneman doesn’t know if she can avoid burnout in the future, but she tries to prepare for it by staying organized and surrounding herself with loved ones.

“Sunday night I was working on a paper and got overwhelmed,” Henneman said. “I stopped, took out my headphone, looked up and was surrounded by five of my closest friends and boyfriend and I remember thinking, ‘Dang, I’m really lucky,’ and got back to work.”

Jade Critchfield covers health and fitness. Contact her at [email protected].