Beating student burnout

Trying to balance a part-time job and schoolwork, senior Cara Choi experienced burnout during the first semester of her junior year. 

“I felt like I couldn’t study for tests, and I wouldn’t say my grades really plummeted, but my grades weren’t the best,” said Choi. “So I think [my job] was my biggest issue in terms of not being able to balance my life correctly.”

According to Kelly LaPorte, owner and director of Naperville Counseling Center, “Burnout is a psychological state of mind where you’ve either been overworked or you’re taking on too much, which leads to the feeling that you can’t handle anything else added onto your plate. 

Symptoms of burnout can include apathy, irritability and having a more negative outlook on life. Other symptoms include decreased productivity, less motivation and a loss of interest in activities. 

Burnout and the constant stress associated with it can have short-term physical effects, such as sleep deprivation, headaches and changes in appetite and weight.

Long-term effects of burnout can include potential mental health problems like depression and generalized anxiety disorder, said Dr. Joshua Kahn, child and adolescent psychiatrist. 

“Stress raises cortisol levels systemically,” said Kahn. “And if it’s persistent, it can lead to physiological changes that can have an impact on blood pressure, obesity and other medical conditions [like] glucose uptake [and] diabetic changes.” 

Taking care of the body’s basic needs by sleeping and eating, reducing factors that cause burnout and finding healthy coping skills to manage stress can prevent burnout. Coping skills can include physical activity, mindfulness and other self-care strategies. 

“Step one is just being mindful that you’re either becoming burnt out or that you are burnt out,” LaPorte said. 

Choi has worked on finding balance in her life to help prevent burnout, which includes taking breaks and spending time with family. 

I will usually make time for my family a lot because I feel like they distract me from feeling [burnout],” said Choi. “So whether that means sitting down at the dinner table with my dad after work just catching up …  it’s just a time where my brain is not focused on schoolwork and other stresses.”