How to avoid and deal with university burnout

Do you feel stressed or overwhelmed about your uni work? Are you procrastinating on assignments and missing lectures? Are you feeling irritable most of the time and can’t seem to calm yourself down? If this sounds like you, you may be experiencing 'burnout'.

Burnout can be difficult to describe. Let's just say that it's much more than having a bad day or a bad hangover after a big nightout. Burnout happens when you experience a state of complete mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion. It's classified by the World Health Organisation as an 'occupational phenomenon' - one that also affects university students. 

When you burnout it might feel like everything just feels too much. You may feel totally overwhelmed by study and life demands, have a cynical and detached attitude towards your uni work, no longer care about the things that are important to you, or experience an increasing sense of hopelessness. 

Signs of burnout

Recognizing that you have burnout is often the first step to recovery. Burnout looks different for everyone, but some common signs are:

  • Feeling fatigued, exhausted, anxious or depressed. 
  • Feeling unmotivated towards previously important goals, causing academic performance to drop. 
  • Feeling isolated, empty or emotionally detached.
  • Losing enthusiasm, drive or motivation in parts of your life.
  • Feeling stressed or worried.
  • Feeling angry or irritated all the time.
  • Physical discomforts like fatigue, headaches, dizziness, or gastrointestinal pain.

I’m experiencing burnout. Now what?

Burnout can feel overwhelming in the moment, but there are ways you can recover from burnout and tangible steps you can take to get back on a better path.

  • Practice self-care and healthy habits. Assess how you take care of yourself (both physically and mentally), and check-in with yourself throughout the day, to see, ‘How am I doing emotionally? How am I doing physically?'.
  • Practice mindfulness.  Mindfulness is an awareness of yourself and your environment; staying focused in the present moment without mentally drifting from that experience.
  • Manage your time. Take breaks daily, making time to rest, relax, and switch off. This is important in order for you to maintain your momentum, work efficiently and productively, and avoid procrastination (one of the biggest causes of stress and worry!).
  • Set realistic expectations. You’ll be able to reduce your stress by not setting overly ambitious or unreasonable goals that you don’t think you can achieve.
  • Be available for yourself. Ensure you have time away from study or work to enjoy doing the things you love. Having a mental break from studies will allow you to return completely refreshed.
  • Prioritise sleep and exercise. Getting a good rest and exercising regularly provides an abundance of health benefits. Check out these tips for getting a good night's sleep
  • Talk to somone. If everything feels too overwhelming, it can help to talk to someone about how you're feeling. This could be a family member, friend, or even a tutor or lecturer you feel comfortable around. You could also seek professional support, such as talking to your doctor or a mental health professional at UQ

How to avoid burnout in the future

Avoiding burnout comes down to balance and practising the above tips, even when you're not feeling burnt-out. Establishing a meaningful daily routine and creating and maintaining boundaries can work wonders, allowing time to attend to your health and well-being while also attending to the responsibilities of uni, work, and your personal life. Remember, when your cup is running low, or is on empty, it needs refilling. Taking care of yourself = keeping your cup full.

Last updated:
9 January 2023