Being overwhelmed or stressed out while studying is a common feeling. But because it happens so often, you tend not to recognize the signs and symptoms of a different condition – study burnout. This can arise from excessive exposure to endless school work, working long hours, and even family issues. With all of these variables combined, it’s a perfect recipe for a burnout.

Study Burnout vs. Stress – What’s the Difference? 

Study burnout happens when you feel overwhelmed due to the demand to meet academic goals. As this feeling continues, you’ll start to lose the interest and motivation that inspired you to study in the first place.

Stress is temporary and is mainly tied to a particular event. On the other hand, a burnout is a result in response to continuous stress that leaves you mentally and physically drained to the point where you’ll feel hopeless about your situation. While it’s often considered a normal part of being a student or the process of studying, burnout can be a severe issue.

Study burnout will appear in the extreme form of mental exhaustion, negative feelings about yourself, and the inability to stay on track with the current task. This, in turn, reduces your ability to be productive while draining your energy, causing you to feel hopeless and overloaded from studying.

Composite image of a stack of books and coffee on top of a person's body with their legs sticking out.

Academic impact

A burnout shouldn’t be something you should ignore and hope that it’ll go away. According to a study involving burnout among university students, participants who demonstrated consistent burnout are more likely to have poor academic performance compared to students who don’t. So the longer a burnout impacts you, the more negative impact it’ll have on your academic performance; thus, causing you to have low problem-solving success and a diminished attention span.

Knowing the signs

Since burnout doesn’t appear in a day, it is important to identify the early stages of your mental exhaustion. The sooner you know the warning signs, the easier it will be to control the situation, especially if you have an exam creeping up.

Here are some signs that you may be experiencing academic burnout:

  • Intellectual exhaustion
  • Inability of the brain to absorb more information
  • Unwillingness to study further
  • Decline in academic performance
  • Apathy toward educational topics

Tips for preventing study burnout

1. Time Management: When you keep up with your study in a timely manner, you’re less likely to feel a burnout. The key is to pace yourself every step of the way. Try taking a 15-minute break every hour so you can clear your head and rest. If your exam is a month out, using a calendar can help keep track of priorities and deadlines to avoid cramming in the end.

2. Set personal goals: Be realistic about your workload. Trying to cram multiple subjects into one night will lead to stress that can cause burnout down the road. It’s important to avoid multitasking by setting up goals on what to study and when. This will help you retain information and be more organized for a better school-life balance. Take it easy. Try your best to break down large tasks into smaller chunks. Having achievable milestones can be beneficial for avoiding those stressful all-nighters.

3. Respect your health: There’s no point in studying if you’re always tired. A recent study published by PNAS  shows that cognitive fatigue can influence negative results on standardized tests. Getting the right amount of sleep, eating healthy, and getting enough exercise is key to avoiding burnout. Adding in stress-reducing activities will put your mind at ease because they release positive endorphins throughout the body.

4. Ask for help: There is no shame in asking for help – we’re all human. During a time of burnout, ask your professors, students, or even see a psychologist for assistance in study materials or coping strategies. This will give you a better road map of what to study for and where you should be allocating most of your time.

Take care of yourself

Burnout out can happen at any time and to anyone. Always take a break, analyze your current workload, and make the necessary changes. If you feel like you can’t fix it alone, don’t be shy and ask for help. Understanding how to handle it as a student can help you be in a better mental state overall.