Dealing with Burnout

Burnout is something that should be avoided at all costs. Just ask someone who’s suffered from it in the past.

Frustratingly, it’s something that has become more common in the work life of many people - both students, teachers and parents alike as we wrestle with more distraction in an interconnected world on top of the increased productivity expected of us with the benefits of digital technology. 

What is Burnout?

Burnout can be described as an intense negative emotional, physical and mental reaction to prolonged workload that results in exhaustion, frustration, lack of motivation and a reduced ability to focus. The dangerous part is that it can be compounded when not addressed as your ability to “work through it” diminishes the longer it goes on.

Curiously, many people see it happen as a result of them not seeing enough impact in their own work as an adult or seeing slow progress in their development or learning when things just aren't working. It can be very hard to burnout when you have an intensely satisfying job or a subject you are passionate about when everything just works and is going well - in those cases motivation is much easier to come by.

Imagine your combined physical and mental capacity as a battery. Some things use up more battery than others, and other activities that you enjoy which allow you to relax and decompress are the activities that recharge your battery. These are both different to every person, but work - whether it is school work or a job, is often something that drains our battery.

If we don't get the balance right, we can end up with our "battery" nearly out of energy when we need it most. It's like when you are stranded somewhere with your phone on 1% when you desperately need to call someone and it keeps dying on you no matter how much you try to turn it back on. It's up to us to create a balanced work-life schedule for ourselves that stops this from happening.

It should not be confused with the occasional feeling of frustration when you have been studying for hours on end on the same topic or tired from pulling an all-nighter. It is more of a chronic condition from sustained long-term output, especially in an area that you have very little interest or passion partaking in.

How Do You Know If Someone Is Suffering From Burnout?

Symptoms of burnout are much more varied than just tiredness and feeling like you can’t attend another class. 

Burnout causes real, psychosomatic problems such as headaches, insomnia, depression and anxiety. This is why we think it’s important to educate ourselves on recognising the signs so we can start taking steps to reverse the effects of burnout as soon as possible.

Some common signs to look out for in yourself and your friends and loved ones are:

  • Lacking motivation to attend classes or start assignments.
  • Short temper, lashing out at people they are close to out of frustration. 
  • Lacking inspiration and creativity to bring to projects and class discussions.
  • Loss of confidence in academic abilities.
  • Feeling exhausted no matter how much sleep you get, which results in fatigue and insomnia.
  • Incapability to meet important deadlines. 
  • Higher than usual propensity to procrastinate and avoid necessary, even basic tasks like personal hygiene. 
  • Increased frequency of pain and tension in your body, which can be manifested as headaches, migraines, sore muscle aches, or jaw tension.
  • Higher frequency of illness. Possibly due to prolonged stress and exhaustion.
  • Increase in bad habits such as overeating, staying up too late, nail-biting, or any other habit you tend to acquire when you are stressed or not taking care of yourself.
  • Inability to concentrate on school work or lectures.
  • Feeling bored or uninterested in aspects of life that you used to enjoy.
  • Feelings of anxiety such as a tightening feeling of the chest, holding of breath or irregular breathing.
  • Feelings of depression such as hopelessness, self-loathing and low mood. 

Keep in mind, with the shorter days that come during British winter, the effects of Seasonal Depression Disorder (SAD) can really impact what would usually be your natural energy, motivation and mood levels. It's important to keep this in mind when considering the reasons why you feel the way you do and whether this is a factor in making it worse.

How to Recover from Burnout

Let’s face it. You are probably not reading this blog unless you're already feeling the strain of burnout. It’s ok. We’ve been there before many times and we’ve bounced back on each and every occasion. But it can be difficult. 

If you recognise several of the symptoms listed above, it’s time to slow down and make a change before you experience full-blown burnout. 

Quite often we convince ourselves that it is up to us alone to get ourselves out of this mess which can make the feelings worse - this is not true! When you make the first step of realising there is a problem, you will realise that your health is of a higher priority to everyone than a lot of the things that have contributed to your situation.

After reading this guide, you may believe that you have academic burnout and are ready to make the move to recovery. Here are the ways you can overcome it.

1. It’s OK to be Vulnerable: 

One of the best ways to help you on the road to recovery is to not judge yourself and be OK with not being OK! It will make it easier to share how you are feeling with others and that will motivate you to seek help. You may be surprised how strong this makes you feel afterwards.


2. Seek Help:

You may need the help of a professional - your situation will be very personal to you and it’s best to get the opinion of a professional to help you identify the causes. Speak to a doctor, mental health counsellor, school nurse or other professional to help you overcome burnout. is a great charity to start from if you just want someone to vent or talk to about how you are feeling. There are lots of helplines designed to just listen and give you advice on where to get further help. It's often easier to offload a bit to a trained person you don't know than a close friend.

You should not feel bad to also enlist the help of friends, family and teachers to help you on your journey. They may not always understand what you are going through or what to say to help you feel better, but they will want to help you find the help you need.

3. Recognise Symptoms:

Get to know the symptoms of student burnout and don’t ignore your mind and body. They may reappear on the road to recovery, but becoming aware of them and not letting your outlook spiral downward at the first hint of a recurrence of symptoms. 

4. Don’t Ignore:

Academic burnout will only get worse if you just keep pushing yourself forward and don’t get help. It can be very tempting when you have people counting on you or putting pressure on you, even if it is just yourself applying that pressure. Learn when to say enough is enough and set your boundaries down.

5. Manage Stress:

Manage your stress levels and make big changes to reverse the burnout. Set aside time for yourself to decompress and reduce stress. Don’t take on any stressful activities unless you elect to do so, making sure to make small steps up in responsibility after giving yourself a break from everything stressful!

6. Make Important Changes:

Practice mindful breathing techniques to manage symptoms, eat healthy, drink 2 litres of water per day, start short but frequent exercise to improve your physical health and ensure you are socialising constructively. Try meditation breaks throughout the day as well. 

7. Organise Your Schedule

Rearrange your schedule for a better work-life balance. Once you can mentally prepare for when you will be expected to do something and it is you who has decided, it will help reduce the negative impact. Consider enlisting the help of an online tutor to be a mentor in helping you reach your goals. Nobody gets through life alone!

Remember, it takes months or years to develop the habits that led to burnout and recovery will take a similar amount of time and commitment. 

Follow the above steps consistently, exercising patience and forgiveness of what has happened in the past and you will give yourself the best chance of a quick recovery. 

There will be highs and lows on the journey that will have you questioning whether you have made any progress at all - keep the faith and take it one day, hour, minute at a time if you need to! Whatever you do, don’t give up!

How to Prevent Student Burnout

If you have a heavy workload ahead of you and are worried about getting burnt out and looking to prevent it from the start. Good for you! There are many easy ways you can change your habits and lifestyle to prevent burnout.

1. Enjoy Your Vacations: 

Take a real break from work and school on the weekends if possible. Try to rearrange your schedule to give yourself at least a day off every week. During school breaks, try to take vacations or staycations, where you truly give your mind time to rest.

2. Make Time for Enjoyable Activities:

And not just on the weekend! Sprinkle your calendar with things you love to do throughout the week, and you’ll feel more motivated to start your school days.

3. Get Plenty of Physical Exercise:

Try to exercise at least three times a week, stay hydrated and eat healthy to keep your mind and body active and healthy.

4. Get Outside:

Studies have shown that time spent in nature can reduce stress levels so spend some of your free time in some greenery!

5. Make Time for Social Activities:

Not only do friends and family provide you with a positive support system, but time spent in fun social environments will make you happier and give your mind a break.

6. Develop Good Relationships with Classmates or Colleagues:

This will make it so that you don’t feel like going to class or work is a chore. As an added bonus, you will have more people around you who are looking out for you to notice any changes and they will understand when you need to give more time to yourself.

7. Set Reasonable Goals:

And stick to them — use a calendar and daily reminders to stay motivated to achieve deadlines. This takes some practice and an element of trial and error, so keep an eye on how often you fail to reach your goals for tasks, no matter how small, and readjust what you expect of yourself so you can focus on small improvements at a time. 

8. Avoid Procrastination:

When you are feeling stressed, putting off assignments and projects is tempting, but ultimately this will lead to sleep deprivation, frustration and end in more stress.

9. Get Better at Time Management:

This is a key factor in making sure you stay on track with deadlines, avoid procrastination and end up with a more positive relationship with your studies. Check out our tips on improving your time management skills here.

10. Take a Step Back:

Look at your school situation as a whole. Ask yourself, have you chosen the correct field, school or program? Is there another direction you need to take to make this better align with your career path or interests?

11. Work-Life Balance:

Work-life balance is just as important for students as it is for workers. Set up your schedule for equal parts school and fun or social activities. And don’t forget to make time for just YOU. Here are some suggestions for activities that will help you keep the balance.

Academic burnout is a very real condition that is possible to self-treat by being aware of the signs and taking the right measures to minimise the risk of it getting worse. Especially, if you catch it early and minimise the impact that the remedies take on your life. 

Try to take a step back and assess everything in your life and your work that might be contributing to your burnout. Trim the ‘fat’ that doesn’t need to be there or others can help with and make small but necessary changes so as not to intensify your workload.  

Don’t feel shy to ask the help of friends, teachers, family and peers to get you out of your rut, and always seek professional help if you feel you can’t kick the burnout on your own. 

You should always make someone aware of how you are feeling, even if you don’t explicitly need their help. It’s best to keep people in the loop before it gets too serious, you may find they have been through something similar!

Author's profile picture

Russell Kilgour

4th December

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