As the COVID-19 pandemic nears its third year, an increasing number of college students are experiencing a phenomenon known as academic burnout.
“It's just really hard to get out of bed…” says Ginny Faeth, an OWU sophomore double majoring in genetics and psychology, “It's increased mental stress and anxiety as well, just because it's so much more difficult to get my work done.”
Academic burnout presents as “physical, emotional, or mental exhaustion accompanied by decreased motivation, lowered performance, and negative attitudes toward oneself and others” and is commonly caused by extreme prolonged stress and academic demands.
“I rarely experience panic or anxiety attacks, but I do when my schoolwork is very busy, like finals week or the beginning of a semester. In my freshman and sophomore years of college I would break out into hives for 1-2 weeks every midterm and finals season,” says Mack Wade, an OWU senior majoring in Geography.
According to a study conducted by Ohio State University in August 2020 and April 2021, OSU students who screened positive for burnout jumped from 40% to 71%. On a national level, the American Psychological Association’s 2020 survey revealed that Gen Z adults report the highest levels of stress than all other generations.
Burnout was first coined in 1974 by psychologist Herbert Freudenberger after he witnessed the negative effects of prolonged work stress in his clinical staff. Burnout presents itself in nearly every modern profession, but the added factors of isolation, financial instability, and health concerns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated burnout in college students.
“Before the pandemic, I was expected to meet people at designated times.... but now, people have unlimited availability to me. They can start a virtual meeting at any time, and it really becomes exhausting after so long,” says Wade.
For some students like Faeth who transitioned from high school to college after March 2020, the stress of post-pandemic academia is their only reference for college life.
“I've always put a lot of value in myself academically and that's where a lot of my self-worth comes from internally. So, if it's hard for me to do school, then it feels like I'm worthless,” says Faeth.
“I think the entire culture of college is also to blame,” says Wade, “Students attend classes in the mornings, work in the evenings, and do schoolwork at night…the amount of work that we do for free and sacrifice so much of our time and life for doesn’t feel worth it at the end of the day.”
Faeth plays calming video games and paints while Wade prioritizes active alone time and goes on hikes to decrease stress. But how can universities like OWU play an active role in preventing academic burnout?
“Specifically, during exam week, OWU does a lot of stress-relieving activities… but if they could do more things like that sprinkled throughout the semester, then I feel like it would be more helpful,” says Faeth.
“Lower tuition or increase student job salaries,” says Wade.