Casey Villalon | The Poly Post

Navigating burnout as a college student

By: Kristine Pascual, Feb. 20, 2024

Karoshi: the Japanese term translated to “death by overwork.”

With many Cal Poly Pomona students being commuters, full-time students and workers, time can quickly run out. Their work piles up, leading to stress which turns into burnout. Feeling burnout as a student is almost inevitable.

The feeling of burnout is difficult — there’s a variety of negative emotions leading to mental, physical and emotional exhaustion. Burnout can be all-consuming, but it is important to be able to identify stressors and know how to take better care of a student’s mental health.

Burnout can look different for everyone. Psychology associate professor Sara Langford explained that burnout is not caused by a single stressor but caused by multiple stressors accumulating over time.

“It’s emotional exhaustion, you just feel drained and as a result you become cynical of what’s going on around you and you feel detached because you’re just kind of over it,” Langford said.

Many CPP students are tasked with balancing a job along with being a full-time student. Visual communication student Chris Johnson experienced burnout during his last three years at CPP For Johnson, burnout means a lack of motivation and effort academically.

“I’ve been doing five classes every semester and what that means for me is that I’ve reached a point where I can still do five classes, but I’m not putting in the effort that I should in order to further my academic career,” Johnson said.

As Johnson reflected on past semesters, he realized that he continues to grapple with the negative effects of burnout as each semester begins.

“At the start of every semester, it kind of hits me like a train where it’s just like ‘oh s— , we have to do this all over again,’” Johnson said. “I haven’t fully recovered from last semester so (burnout) is like not being able to hit the ground running.”

Johnson is just one student out of thousands at CPP who may experience these feelings.

“I try to step back and realize that there are people who don’t make it this far,” Johnson said. “I feel as though I’ve already made it to a point where other people tend to give up and I’ve seen people around me that do give up and I don’t feel connected to that type of mindset.”

It is important to note that people can experience burnout in different ways. Burnout for a student is different from feeling burnout as a professional.

“When you’re a student, you have less control and so it can feel more helpless than a professor who’s feeling burnout because we have more control over our work,” Langford said.

To combat burnout, Langford suggested being proactive about finding a solution by acknowledging feelings and learning about coping strategies.

“There are different strategies you can use to combat burnout,” Langford said. “The researchers call it primary coping strategies but in normal terms it means tackling the stressor that’s causing you the problem in the first place. So, either eliminating it or changing it in some way so that it doesn’t have that negative impact on you.”

If eliminating the stressor is out of the question, there are other options. Langford recommends going on a walk to connect with nature, calling one’s loved ones or doing anything that provides a little boost or sense of accomplishment.

Psychology professor Lori Barker reminded students that college is not forever. Her perspective highlights the importance of built-in breaks amidst the inevitable stress of academic demands.

“Yes, it’s stressful but it also doesn’t last forever,” Barker said. “We have built in breaks. We have summer break, winter break and spring break to really take advantage of resting and doing good self-care during those breaks.”

Barker recommended learning how to master true self-care and time management. Having a positive mindset is also key, along with being intentional with one’s actions. The right mindset can help an individual on the path toward balancing productivity while also maintaining well-being.

“I think the mindset is critical, like changing the way we think about it instead of being hard on ourselves because we can’t handle everything,” Barker said. “It’s okay to let some things go.”

For students looking to seek help, visit Counseling & Psychological Services located in Building 66 Room 116 or call (909) 869-3220.

Casey Villalon | The Poly Post

Feature image courtesy of Casey Villalon

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