A student stresses out while reading a textbook. Burnout is a prolonged period of constant stress that leads people to complete mental, physical and emotional exhaustion. UBC LEARNING COMMONS/FLICKR VIA CC BY 2.0

Upon entering high school, I was a successful student who was determined and motivated in all of my classes. My strong work ethic led me to excel in school. I let my intellect be defined by my remarkable grades. It was not until I fell victim to a mental illness that has recently seen a sharp increase in students—burnout. And yes, it is a real thing.

Burnout is a prolonged period of constant stress that leads people to complete mental, physical and emotional exhaustion. It is a long and strenuous process that strips someone of their energy, leaving them to feel hopeless when tackling a day’s work. A person suffering from burnout goes through extensive periods of constant stress that gradually causes them to lose their motivation in their everyday routine and feel worthless. Victims of burnout are characterized as withdrawn, cynical and apathetic.

As high school progressed and the pressure to stand out among my peers became more difficult, I no longer received the grades I constantly strived for. My optimism in the classroom was replaced with self-doubt after failing test grades, incomplete homework assignments and what I thought to be mediocre academic abilities. No matter how hard I tried, I was never able to get back to the positive mental state I had at the beginning of high school. 

The lack of motivation in the classroom soon spread to my interests outside of school. Activities I used to enjoy such as archery and reading turned into chores. I no longer felt joy in anything I did and could not do my work without having a panic attack. My creativity was whittling down to almost nothing. I was constantly reminded that I would never be good enough at anything I did. 

The process of burnout takes months or years to fully develop, so it is a good idea to recognize the symptoms of burnout in students before it is too late. Typically, students suffering from burnout are very exhausted. They tend to be very pessimistic and detached. Burnout ushers feelings of loneliness and inadequacy. It can extend to a student’s physical health by changing their appetite, sleep schedules or weakening their immune system. Students who have fallen victim to burnout are often seen taking their anger out on others, and can even fall victim to alcohol or drug abuse.

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Burnout affects students after being overwhelmed with an immense amount of school-related pressure. Since the demands of the classroom are constantly increasing, students are forced into a system where failing results is not an option. In order to meet the demands of school, students are required to keep up with the workload of multiple classes, extracurricular activities and a social life — all while getting a good night’s sleep. While trying to balance these impossible standards, students wear themselves out, causing their performances in school to drop. Students are drained from feeling that they have to flaunt their well-rounded skills to colleges and employers. 

Students often go through their academic careers unaware of the fact that they have burnout. It is important that attention is brought to this major issue. We need to normalize the fact that students are suffering and that they need help. Signs of mental distress in students are often repressed. Instead of pushing them aside, we should adapt approaches to alleviate their struggles. 

As someone who is still recovering from burnout, I can honestly say that it is just as grueling to overcome it as it was falling into it. Although it is tough, it is not impossible to rid yourself of these exhausting feelings. 

If you think that you are suffering from burnout, my best advice is to reevaluate your priorities. Instead of putting school or work first, make sure that your mental health is in a place where it is free to breathe. I found that the worst thing I did to myself was bottling up my feelings and isolating myself. Talking to people does wonders to help you work through any sort of mental distress. No matter what you are struggling with, there will always be someone who is willing to help.

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