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1st Year at Uni: Avoiding the Very Real Risk of Burnout

  • Posted 2 months ago
  • University

There is no point pretending that burnout is not a real risk. Every year, a small minority of students drop out of courses because they are overwhelmed. A lot of the time, this might be the right decision, and there are plenty of routes available to professional and personal fulfilment, higher education is not the be all or end all.

However, those who suit academia, and want to take that route, should watch out for the signs and take steps to avoid burnout..

What is Burnout?

The term “burnout” was conceived by the psychoanalyst Herbert Freudenberger and a professor of psychology Christina Maslach in 1974 at the University of California.

Academic burnout happens when your academic work seems overpowering to the point where it feels like you can’t cope. It’s often the psychological result of working beyond your physical capacity. This is a serious risk, albeit for many a remote one, and should be taken seriously..

If you experience burnout as a student, you quickly fall into a vicious cycle of feeling too stressed to study. This often results in avoiding studying, which will make you fall even further behind.

So, it pays to know what burnout looks and feels like and to arm yourself with preventative strategies.

Signs and Symptoms of Burnout


If you always feel tired, irrespective of how much sleep you get, then something is up. You may feel that you have nothing more left to give, emotionally, mentally and physically.

Lack of motivation

Feeling less motivated to participate in activities you used to enjoy is another sign of burnout. If you don’t like attending classes, seeing your friends and family, or participating in any physical or social activity anymore, then you should recognise that you need to take action and seek support.

Lack of creativity

If you are overwhelmed with different tasks, you may feel that you don’t have enough time to do the extensive reading required to produce quality work. This is because creativity requires a clear mind; if you’re bogged down with more tasks than you can handle, you’re unlikely to be able to produce high-quality work.

Increased irritability

When you’re overburdened and can’t catch up with all the tasks you’ve taken on, you will find yourself increasingly irritated, and those around you will observe this. Your academic performance may suffer. This is another sign that something needs to change.

Preventing/Treating Burnout

You don’t have to panic about burnout- there are ways to prevent and treat it. Let’s take a look at a few… 

Scaleback Your Workload Where Possible

A lot of the time, the cause of burnout is a straightforward one- workload. It is like lifting a hundred kilograms when your body can only lift fifty. Unless you reduce it, all other solutions will only work to an extent.

Try to reduce it, for example, by talking to your lecturers and asking for an extension to a deadline to hand in an assignment. Setting yourself reasonable targets is part of scaling back and will help a great deal in preventing burnout.

Time Management

Burnout comes from being overwhelmed, overworked and out of control. Organising a realistic timetable and sticking to it brings comfort and order to a student’s life. Yes it’s obvious, yes it’s boring- so is washing, drinking water and brushing your teeth- do it and you will function better.

If you are someone who struggles with routines, then start small. 1st year undergrad students are at risk of developing unhealthy habits that can have a devastating snowball effect. It’s not about sucking all the fun out of everything, it’s about maintaining a base level of manageability so that you can have consistent fun and satisfaction for years to come.


Let’s not kid ourselves. Most people are not going to be hitting the hay at 9 every night, sleeping for 8 hours, and then getting up for a run in the morning. However, everyone has a breaking point, get to know what yours is. How are you going to pay for your all nighter? Have you got time to catch up on sleep? 

If you’re experiencing burnout, one of the first things to check is your sleeping pattern. Getting enough sleep is essential for your physical and mental health. If you still feel tired after getting a solid night’s sleep, this could be due to your nervous system working overtime. 

If this happens, you need to give your mind and body what it needs- sleep, sleep and more sleep!

Physical Activities

If your mind is in overdrive, then it may tell you that you have no time to go for a walk, or to the gym. There is always time to go for a walk. In fact, there is never more time to go for a walk than when you are overwhelmed.

The first time you find yourself staring at a blank word processor, totally unable to bring fingertips to the keyboard- take a stroll.

Social Activities

“Man is a social animal.” Or so Aristotle said, and he presumably had a reason to! Make time to see your friends and family. A positive support system of loved ones is a critical aspect of a happy student’s life!

Sometimes the answer is not to work harder, sometimes the answer is to take a step back and seek support. Your life at university is about discovery, but it is also about responsibility, and this responsibility extends to your own well-being.

A little honest self-reflection and a willingness to take positive steps to prevent burnout will give you the freedom to experience your time at Uni to its fullest.

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