4. Burnout

The previous chapter briefly discussed Seyles stages of stress. In this chapter, we will focus on the final stage of stress exhaustion, also known as burnout. 

What is Burnout?

Burnout can be due to either physical exhaustion or mental distress. It is generally catalyzed by prolonged stress, in situations where high demands are placed on the individual9. This syndrome of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and low personal accomplishment culminates in decreased effectiveness at school and work10. As the pressures of courses, internships, shadowing, and social activities add up, we can begin to feel exhausted. 

Increased risk for experiencing burnout

  • You strongly identify with academics
  • You lack balance between your school life and your personal life
  • You have a high workload, including excessive course loads, multiple social obligations, unrealistic expectations
  • You plan to go into a helping profession, such as health care, teaching, or caregiving
  • You feel you have little or no control over your situation


  • Feeling exhausted no matter how much sleep you get, resulting in fatigue and insomnia
  • Lacking the motivation to attend classes or start assignments
  • Lashing out at others and increased irritability due to frustration
  • Lacking inspiration and creativity to bring to projects and class discussions
  • Loss of confidence in academic abilities
  • Incapability to meet important deadlines
  • Increased pain and tension in your body that can manifest as headaches, sore muscle aches, or jaw tension
  • Higher frequency of illness due to stress and exhaustion
  • Inability to concentrate on schoolwork or lectures
  • Feeling bored or uninterested in aspects of school or areas of leisure that you used to enjoy

Coping with Burnout

  • Evaluate your options. If you feel exhausted by the end of the semester, the semester’s demands were too much. Discuss these specific concerns with your advisor. Maybe you can work together to change or shift your course work to allow time to focus on your well-being. Try to set goals for what must get done and what can wait. There is only so much that can be accomplished in a semester.
  • Seek support. Whether you reach out to schoolmates, friends, or loved ones, discussing your struggles and talking with someone about the issues you are having can help. Feeling connected with friends and family is vital to overcoming stressful situations. Take advantage of counseling and psychiatric services (CAPS). CAPS is the counseling service located on campus, and they provide workshops and counseling to help students manage their stress.
  • Self-care. It is important to set aside time for yourself each week. Try and focus on being present during this time, and make your self-care time free of worrying about your to-do list. Explore programs that can help with stress such as yoga, meditation, or tai chi.
  • Get some exercise. As discussed previously, regular physical activity can help you to better deal with stress. It also provides an opportunity to distract ourselves from our stressors.
  • Get some sleep. Sleep restores well-being and helps protect your health.
  • Mindfulness. Mindfulness is the act of focusing on your breath flow and being intensely aware of what you’re sensing and feeling at every moment, without interpretation or judgment. In a job setting, this practice involves facing situations with openness and patience, and without judgment.

Acknowledging and Handling Emotions

A common symptom of burnout is irritability and heightened emotional response. It is important to recognize these feelings and use positive coping skills when they arise. Below are a few techniques to help when trying to respond to strong emotions.

Meditation or Body Scanning

A common form of relaxation is meditation. Meditation is a technique and practice where an individual uses their mind to concentrate on a particular object, thought, or activity in order to accomplish a state of mental clarity and emotional tranquility.

One type of meditation that is particularly helpful is performing a body scan meditation. This type of meditation can help us connect with our body and mind and evaluate how we are doing in a nonjudgmental manner. Try a short body scan meditation. https://www.helpguide.org/meditations/body-scan-meditation.htm#:~:text=The%20body%20scan%20is%20one,is%20not%20the%20primary%20goal.

Breathing Technique

Take a slow deep breath in, fill your rib cage to the fullest extent. Now slowly over six seconds let it out. Controlled breathing is a powerful type of meditation you can implement to help reduce stressful emotions and anxious feelings. Before you get started, try to keep these tips in mind:

  • Be in a calm, quiet environment
  • Sit comfortably with your back straight
  • Breathe in through your nose
  • Exhale through your mouth, pushing out as much air as you can
  • Keep your mind focused on your breaths
  • Your mind will wander, acknowledge those thoughts and then bring your focus back to your breath

Positive Attitude and Flipping the Focus

Our thoughts shape our attitudes, our attitudes impact our behaviors. If you want to change behaviors, you must first look at your thought patterns. Whether it is at the beginning of the year, middle of the month, or end of the day, you have the ability to evaluate and change your thought patterns. When situations arise throughout the day, do your thoughts automatically go to the worst-case scenario? Challenging negative thoughts and evaluating what response from you can improve the situation can have a significant impact on the way you handle and cope with stressful situations.

Think about a time you may have thought that your professor was trying to overwhelm you with readings, assignments, and tests. Recognize: that you are having negative thoughts. Identify: that you are feeling overwhelmed. Challenge: would a professor try to intentionally overwhelm their students?  Reframe: my professor is trying to help me learn, preparing me for the tests, and encouraging me to be successful in the future; this would be a positive attitude.

When we feel like things are overwhelming and out of control, it’s important to focus on what we can control. Focus on concrete action you can take whatever the size that can help to improve the situation. While we can’t control situations, we can control our responses and actions toward our circumstances.

Whether you have a positive attitude, negative attitude, or are somewhere in the middle, there is always room to improve. Watch this short video by John Boswortha Mental Health Counselor, who provides three key tips to developing a positive attitude towards life.


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Ch. 4 - Mental Health & Wellness by UGA PEDB Program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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