What Is the Definition of Academic Burnout?

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Have you been experiencing a lack of motivation to study lately? Do you feel stressed to the point that you are unable to complete your assignments or projects? Academic burnout could be the answer to these questions.

What Is Academic Burnout?What Is Academic Burnout?

Academic burnout can be referred to as the state of mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion you find yourself in due to emotionally demanding conditions. It is more of a chronic illness resulting from prolonged study or schoolwork.

College burnout seems to be more prevalent that high school burnout, and it is largely due to the increased amount of responsibility students bear.

Some academic burnout symptoms of three conceptually distinct yet empirically related dimensions:

  1. Emotional Exhaustion
  2. Academic Uninterest
  3. Academic Impotence

What Causes Academic Burnout?

What Causes Academic Burnout?

Academic burnout can affect for several factors:

Heavy Workload

This is one of the most common causes of burnout across many different roles in higher education. A heavy workload leads to nervousness and anxiety, which prevent you from focusing and completing your work.

The pace of work combined with looming deadlines and the fear of failure is a risk. They contribute to a lack of motivation to perform any of your tasks. With no time to relax and recharge, you are bound to feel dissatisfied with your academic life.

Perceived Lack of Control

Feeling like you lack autonomy and access to proper resources and studying courses unrelated to your area of interest can cause you to feel alienated and unwilling to participate in classroom activities or complete assignments on time.

Lack of Reward

It is human nature to be more productive if the end product of your hard work results in some reward or achievement. Reward and recognition can come in different forms for different people.

Some prefer to have their accomplishments publicly acknowledged, while others want to be appropriately credited for their work on a project. Monetary awards are also good incentives.

However, all of these concepts are severely lacking in educational institutes for the most part. Just getting good grades is not cutting it, especially in the time of Covid-19 and the crippling economy it has graced us with.

Regardless of how you want to be recognized or rewarded, if you find it lacking, this can contribute to academic burnout.

Poor relationships

There can always be team-mates unwilling to share the brunt of work in group projects, resulting in unsupportive and untrusting relationships. If you feel like you have to do all the work in a group project, you are more likely not to do it at all or do it entirely at the last minute with stress and irritation.

Burnout can be contagious, so if the group’s morale is already down, it is more likely to affect you too.

Furthermore, the relationship you uphold with your professors is meaningful. If your teacher does not understand your workload or extensions, there will likely be a disconnect. You will not enjoy the subject and, thus, feel like it is merely a burden.

Lack of fairness

Academia was historically created with inequality and racism wrapped into its culture. Even though many departments and institutions promote fairness, equity, and inclusion, those inequalities still exist.

Maybe you cannot attain leadership roles in extracurriculars or are subject to typical stereotypes that interfere with your identity. The lack of fairness in treatment can lead to burnout.

Burnout isn’t just about being exhausted. It is a multifaceted issue that requires multifaceted solutions. If you are thinking of quitting or dropping out, think precisely about what contributes to your burnout and whether it is changeable.

How Does Academic Burnout Affect Students?

How Does Academic Burnout Affect Students?

High school burnout is also a prominent issue. Students suffering from academic burnout usually experience:

  • Lack of participation in classroom activities
  • Inability to maintain a steady presence in the classroom and learning
  • Lack of interest in lessons
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Changes in appetite

Individuals suffering from burnout are usually exhausted, uninterested and ineffective rather than energized, interested and productive. This disrupts their enthusiasm to pursue learning and affects their academic performance negatively.

Students may also lose interest in social activities, have increased anxiety and depression, and neglect their friendships. Many students start feeling disinterested in school activities that used to fulfill them.

How Common is Academic Burnout?

How Common is Academic Burnout?

Based on case studies, many students suffer from academic burnout. Moreover, levels of academic burnout range according to students’ different majors of study.

So if you are a student of the STEM or medicine departments, you are more likely to feel burnt out because of the consistent heavy workload.

The effects of academic burnout on students are relentless nevertheless. Regardless of which academic year you are in, academics self-report high-stress levels. About 70 percent of higher education staff report very high-stress levels, and more than 25 percent of university faculty experience burnout often.

Thus, you are not the only one if you are going through a burnout phase. It is a normal part of higher education, and many before you have gone through it, and many after you will go through it as well. It passes eventually.

What Are the Signs of Academic Burnout?

What Are the Signs of Academic Burnout?

If you have been experiencing the following signs, you are likely to be suffering from academic burnout:

Lack of motivation

If you cannot find the motivation to leave your room, attend class, meet friends and participate in other social activities, this could be a sign of burnout. The things that brought you joy and excitement might start feeling like a chore.

You may find it hard to wake up and go about your day.


You feel tired all the time. You could sleep long hours and still wake up feeling exhausted or barely getting any sleep. This can also be in the form of mental or emotional exhaustion.

Each day or moment feels like too much effort and like you have no energy left to give.

Increased Irritability

You feel frustrated, and the inability to focus on things irritates you even more. Even when you are interacting with peers or course topics, you feel dissatisfied, and you’d not engage with them at all.

You may also be experiencing disappointment in yourself and become overly critical of your academic performance, resulting in annoyance and quickness to anger.

Lack of creativity

Having trouble completing tasks that you didn’t struggle with before or feeling dissatisfied with the work you produce could be another sign of burnout. You are likely to be procrastinating and having difficulty making original ideas.

Inability to focus

No matter how much you try to focus- be it school, work, or personal activities-, you may get distracted very easily and feel disconnected from the task at hand. Known as the foggy brain, you cannot get your brain to concentrate and complete tasks sufficiently.

Loss of interest

When everything you loved or enjoyed no longer causes the same type of excitement, you are likely on the brink of burnout. If you have to drag yourself to the dance class you used to look forward to attending previously, it is a sign you are disengaged.

Increased illness

You might notice yourself getting sick more often, which is your body telling you that it needs a break. Whether you constantly get colds, have digestive issues, or suddenly develop hives or rashes, it is a symptom of your burnout manifesting in physical form.

However, these symptoms could also be signs of other illness symptoms, so it is always good to get medical help and seek treatment if needed.

Feelings of anxiety or depression

Whether you already struggle with these mental illnesses or are experiencing them for the first time, deteriorating mental health can indicate burnout. You may start feeling anxious out of the blue in class or around people.

As reiterated before, you also feel a lack of interest in most things you feel passionate about. A severe mental health episode could require professional care.

How to Deal with Academic Burnout?

How to Deal with Academic Burnout?

Recovering from academic burnout doesn’t happen overnight. You may need several weeks to destress and feel less overwhelmed. It’s a good idea to develop a long-term strategy to overcome your academic hurdles.

The following tips can help you to keep your stress levels down and avoid academic burnout:

Make a list

Write down bullet points on everything that is causing you to feel overwhelmed or anxious. Next to each topic, write down one way best suited for you to reduce its impact.

For example:

  • Reason: My work is very haphazard, and I don’t know where to start
  • Solution: Keep a weekly calendar and divide the work on a day to day basis
  • Reason: I am falling behind in a course
  • Solution: Book an appointment with the course tutor or meet with your advisor to talk about other prospects

Say no

University life can often be overwhelming and busy. Therefore, it is essential to balance your academic and social life. You may also have a part-time job or head a society or club.

It is essential to learn the power of the word no and use it despite the urge to avoid your responsibilities. Sometimes, the person you need to say no to is yourself. You may also need to:

Turn to your support system

While you might be enjoying the independence that embraces you with dorm life or living in a different city or country, going back home temporarily might help you defeat academic burnout.

Moving back home with your family can help take some of the burdens off your shoulders as they are well equipped to support you. You won’t have to meal prep or regularly do your laundry by yourself.

These small gestures go a long way in freeing up your time, allowing you more time to focus on yourself. Leaning on your friends, sharing your troubles, and seeking comfort in their presence is another sound way of destressing.

You are not alone- there will always be someone you can turn to, and you should.

Take breaks

Knowing when to sit back and reflect is an integral part of academic life. Taking breaks while studying is particularly helpful and can help you focus more.

  • Take frequency breaks. E.g., you can adopt the 40-20 rule. Study for 40 minutes and then take a 20-minute break
  • Schedule activities in your calendar that help you relax from time to time
  • Wake up and sleep at the same time every day. Get at least 7 hours of sleep every night. An organized daily schedule helps you stay organized
  • Try to go for a walk every day. Exercise is also an excellent way to freshen your mind and reduce stress

Socialize with different people

Interacting with students can feel stagnant as you are all under pressure from the same hectic environment. Similar things will stress them out, and discussions about exams and grades will only make you feel worse.

Spending time with people who are not students can feel like a breath of fresh air and also help introduce you to different perspectives and aspects of life.

Study smart, not hard

Students’ biggest mistake is covering all their course material, even the irrelevant tidbits that they should skip over. Pay attention in class- focus on topics the instructors spend more time on and solve more questions for practice.

Put in the effort, do not worry about the outcome

If you are determined to excel academically, you unknowingly put a lot of pressure on yourself. You may be prone to be very hard on yourself, resulting in stress and academic burnout.

Grades may be vital to you, but they should not be more important than your health. They are not a reflection of your worth or how employable you are. Job recruiters care more about your flexibility and resilience.

With all your schoolwork, do your best, and whatever the outcome, learn from the feedback without disappointment.

Make study groups 

Set up a study group with people from the same degree as you. Help each other out and revise for exams together. It is permanently relieving to know you are not juggling all your coursework alone.

It also helps you stop procrastinating as seeing others’ work can significantly motivate you.

Wrapping Things Up: What Is the Definition of Academic Burnout?

University is stressful, and it can feel exhausted and unmotivated. We are all prone to academic burnout. The signs of academic burnout are easy to miss, but the goal is to create an atmosphere where emotional well-being is as important as homework or projects.

Implementing the tips above could help you enjoy a more relaxed and fun academic life while performing well in your studies.

Check out our other helpful content below:

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Professor Conquer

Professor Conquer started Conquer Your Exam in 2018 to help students feel more confident and better prepared for their tough tests. Prof excelled in high school, graduating top of his class and receiving admissions into several Ivy League and top 15 schools. He has helped many students through the years tutoring and mentoring K-12, consulting seniors through the college admissions process, and writing extensive how-to guides for school.

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