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How to cope with burnout season

By Caterina Magnoni Nov 24, 2023
Christian Erfurt/Unsplash

When studying at university, finding yourself in a stressful situation is normal, especially during assessment season, with a fast-paced and demanding schedule that often leaves you physically and mentally fatigued.

Sometimes, however, these stressful situations can lead to a state of complete mental, physical and emotional exhaustion called burnout. According to the APA Dictionary of Psychology, burnout is characterised by decreased motivation, lowered performance and negative attitudes toward oneself and others.

We asked Dr Aiman El Asam, senior lecturer in forensic psychology at KU what causes this:

 “Along with academic demands and challenges, future job insecurities and constant social comparison with others to portray the perfect image may lead to distress, anxiety and most importantly cognitive overload.”

Burnout can negatively impact students’ physical health, relationships and overall quality of life, leading to a vicious cycle of stress and underachievement.

“I find it really difficult to decide which modules to prioritise, as all of them are equally important, but I manage my stress by knowing when I work best and when to take time away from studying, even if it is just going for a walk,” said Robyn Fellows, a third-year biomedical science student.

It is vital for students to be aware of the signs and symptoms of burnout, which may include persistent fatigue and numbness, helplessness and hopelessness, difficulty concentrating, withdrawal from social activities and declining motivation. Among the physical symptoms, the NHS lists muscle pains, lethargy, memory problems and lack of concentration, which can be detrimental when trying to focus on demanding coursework and impending deadlines.

To combat burnout, students must prioritise self-care (see our piece on page five about mental health, for advice about how to do this). “At the heart of our society lies a deep commitment to raising mental health awareness and providing a supportive community for students,” said Zeynep Sertkaya, a third-year psychology student and member of the KU psychology society.

“We understand the unique pressures of university life and aim to create a space where everyone feels understood and supported. We know we are not professionals yet, but we can still provide friendship and a safe space to talk,” said Sertkaya.  

Burnout among students is an urgent issue that requires attention and action. By understanding the causes, recognising the signs and implementing self-care strategies, students can mitigate the risk of burnout and promote their mental health. “There is a need to acknowledge that everyone experiences challenges and setbacks, and no one is “perfect”. Self-compassion, self-care and empathy with others will go a long way,” said Dr El Asam.

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