Identifying Academic Burnout

Do you feel emotionally, mentally, and physically exhausted by the ever-increasing, excessive, and continual stress you’re experiencing in school? You may be suffering from academic burnout.

Hi everyone! (Including OG fans of the previous Aiming for Apogee, rip <3.) It’s time to finally continue the Academic Burnout series I had planned a millennium ago. Note: This post in particular is a repetition of what was in my previous site, with some minor additions/edits.

I’ve gotten incessant messages and even some very mean in-person comments (you know who you are) asking if I had actually succumbed to the very thing I was writing about. The answer is yes and no. While I did place some things on hold (like this blog), I am happy to say that I have continued to remain productive, both personally and professionally. 🙂 Now, without further ado, lets talk about Burnout.

But first, let me briefly discuss the life and death of a star.

Eventually, even stars burn out.

Star Wars Episode III

Stellar formation begins with the development of a rotating clump within interstellar clouds of molecular gas. Eventually, as this clump accrues matter, it becomes massive enough to trigger a gravitational collapse and form a protostar. The protostar continues to attract matter and contract until the incredibly high temperatures and densities of its core trigger nuclear fusion. Finally, a star is born.

Because stars have a limited amount of hydrogen to fuse into heavier elements, they consequently have a limited lifetime that depends on the mass of the star. Surprisingly, more massive stars have shorter lifetimes and less massive stars have longer lifetimes. (Thank goodness our host star is kind of tiny relative to the other much larger stars in the universe!) Once the star exhausts all of its hydrogen fuel, it begins to increase in size, become redder, and lives the rest of its life as a red giant.

There are two scenarios that mark the death of a star. Less massive, “ordinary” sized stars like our Sun continue to expand into red supergiants. Eventually, the red supergiant will no longer have any fuel to support its structure, and it will gravitationally collapse and expel a shell of bright gas.

Cat's Eye Nebula, NGC 6543 - Hubble Telescope, NASA


            Rudy Pohl
The Cat’s Eye Nebula, a shell of bright gas expelled during the death of a star.

More massive stars like to go out with a bang. Once their hydrogen supply is exhausted, they continue on to using helium as fuel. The helium is fused to form carbon, which is then fused to form oxygen, which is then fused to form neon, which is then fused to form sulfur, which is finally fused to form iron. At this point, the core of the dying star has continued to gravitationally contract. The core is so dense that nuclear forces repel or “bounce off” in-falling material. This core “bounce” triggers an incredibly powerful, energetic, and luminous stellar explosion, a supernova. Can you spot the supernova explosion in the header image?

The remnants of Supernova 1006, first observed by Chinese astronomers in 1006 AD.

But what do stars have to do with anything?

Well. Like stars, humans burnout, too.

Unlike stars that can do nothing but succumb to the physical processes that govern them, we have a choice to identify burnout and do something about it.

Academic burnout is often mistaken for normal academic stress and is thus often neglected. The difference between regular academic stress and academic burnout is that stress refers to a period of emotional, mental, and physical tension, whereas academic burnout refers to emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion induced by excessive and continual stress.

As the assignments, midterms, and papers pile up, so does one’s stress. Quickly, tasks become too overwhelming to even begin. The stress never really ends and instead, like chia seeds accidentally left inside a water bottle for a week, it flourishes, which causes one to lose the drive, passion, and motivation for pursuing a specific academic and/or career path. Without a doubt, burnout drastically reduces motivation, saps any remaining energy, and even lowers one’s sense of competency as previously “simple” tasks become increasingly more difficult to do.

If you resonate with any of the above, well… you may be suffering from academic burnout. Considering its negative effects on an individual’s goals and aspirations, burnout is not something that should be taken lightly!

Not fully convinced? Here are some questions to ask yourself to identify if you are suffering from academic burnout.

Emotional Well-Being

  • Are you overly sensitive towards small issues like comments or constructive criticism? 
  • Are you having difficulty engaging in activities or hobbies you previously enjoyed? 
  • Do you feel bored all the time? 
  • Do you excessively overthink things?  

Mental Well-Being (Academic)

  • Are you making more mistakes that you typically would? 
  • Do you find it difficult to think of new ideas, ie., subjects for papers or class projects? 
  • Do you feel incapable of meeting deadlines? 
  • Are you lacking motivation to attend virtual classes or begin assignments?

Physical Well-Being

  • Are you tired all the time, regardless of how much sleep you get? 
  • Are you stress eating?
  • Does your body feel tense, in particular in your jaw or shoulders area? 
  • Are you experiencing headaches? 

 As I’m writing this, I am now realizing that perhaps I have a worse case of academic burnout than I thought!

But nevertheless, there is hope.

If this is something you’re currently experiencing, please let me know down below in the comments. We’re all in this together.

Anyways, I don’t know about you, but I’ve had enough of this lack of motivation! Tune into my next post, where I’ll angrily discuss ways to fight back against academic burnout. 😠

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