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Students, staff discuss reality of academic burnout

Academic burnout: the state in which all students struggle to avoid, but inevitably face at some point in the semester. The National College Health Assessment of 2019 showed, “Over 80 percent of college students reported feeling overwhelmed by all the things they have to do, and almost 40 percent felt so depressed that it was difficult to function.”

These statistics are prone to be even higher in this year’s assessment. As COVID-19 has altered just about every aspect of human life, academics can seemingly become the least of college student’s current worries. Burnout, remote work burnout at that, may be even harder to combat during this demanding year. 

“Academic burnout is emotional and physical exhaustion as a result of excessive and prolonged stress caused by piling school work, lack of sleep, unrealistic goals, poor eating habits, lack of exercise, family and romantic partner demands, poor time management, and now with the pandemic, increased isolation and fear of uncertainty,” Paul Castelino, director of counseling and psychological services at Ohio University, said in an email. 

Students have just passed the midpoint of their semesters. Coming off midterms, students can be experiencing more stress and tension in their academics than previous weeks.

“I typically experience the burnout right after midterms,” Alex Williams, a junior studying strategic communications, said. “You’re just super stressed trying to get everything organized, making sure you’re studied up, or finishing a project, meeting with people, spending late nights.”

Through the trials of the semester, Williams continues to balance her positions as Alpha Gamma Delta president, a client services account associate for 1804 Communication, as well as deciding to lead a freshman Learning Community. She is currently in her hometown of Sunbury, Ohio, continuing to maintain focus on her coursework and various duties. 

“I thrive off of friend support and peer support, so when you’re forced to be doing school in your home or in a room away from others, you don’t really have the motivation or the support of other students,” Williams said. “You don’t really see other people going through what you’re going through as well, so you’re kind of feeling alone and isolated. And I think that has really aided in students feeling like the pandemic has really taken a toll on their academics, as well as just everyday life.”

Not yet having the permission to live on campus, Shelby Nichols, a freshman studying social work, has been studying from her home in Cortland, Ohio.

“It can be very stressful to start coursework and start studying knowing you are in the comfort of your own home,” Nichols said in a message. “You have the option to just go back to sleep if you please, or not even change from your pajamas to start your first class. These can all lead to bad habits, less motivation and more procrastination.” 

Nichols believes becoming acclimated and forming peer relationships are some of the fundamentals of one’s freshman year. Interacting through a screen all semester can make this difficult.

“Overall it has not been good to be a freshman in this time,” Nichols said in a message. “I feel very disconnected with my university and it is hard to feel like I’m actually a student there.”

Not having that peer interaction and in-person connections has made Nichols feel less interested this year. She awaits the day she can feel a sense of togetherness and motivation in her school experience again.

As a freshman, Nichols is still simply adjusting to college. One’s transition to college can be met with an immense amount of stress and change, and that is one other thing they must conquer in this season. 

Greg Moeller is a two-time OU graduate. He currently serves as the assistant dean for student success at the Scripps College of Communication. Moeller is quite familiar with academic burnout.

“I’ve been working from home since March, and of course that alleviates some stress where I don’t have to stress out about getting ready in the morning and being in my office by 8 a.m.,” Moeller said. “However, there is stress when I just look at my laptop.”

Students are not the only ones who experience academic burnout. University staff also battles with this concept, especially during these unique pandemic times.

“I may have three to six straight hours of Teams meetings, where outside looking in that may sound, ‘Oh, that’s really cushy or that’s really flexible,’ but just the amount of screen time and looking at the screens causes stress and burnout for me,” Moeller said.

Many students are in similar situations. This semester, opening a laptop may become a stressful thought, as they have virtually become one’s only means of entering school buildings and offices.

“When the announcement came out for Phase Two, I think that elevated the burnout because many students may have had their hopes set on coming to Athens,” Moeller said. “And then once they got that information in September that they weren’t coming back, I think that elevated the stress and the burnout.”

Moeller explained that once students realized that this remote situation may be how the rest of their semester and potential school year will be, he and his colleagues began to observe a decline in some students' academic participation.

“What I am concerned about… are students who have just dropped off the radar,” Moeller said. “They closed the laptop for good and just stopped attending courses.”

As assistant dean for student success, Moeller is responsible for keeping tabs on students and making sure they have all the resources they need to be successful. This has been a challenge during the semester, as the staff can not physically interact with most students. If the students aren’t reaching out or responding to staff’s concerns, there is virtually no way of helping them.

“My advice to every student, from first year students to seniors, is there is still help,” Moeller said. “There’s the Allen Advising Center, Counseling and Psych Services, the Academic Achievement Center and Tutoring Services, the Writing Center – everything is still here to help students. So when students are in doubt, please reach out.”


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