Four weeks into the new school year, the word burnout may seem like an inappropriate term to describe the typical University of Michigan student. The transition back to in-person school from online classes and extracurriculars, however, is challenging. In the past year, clubs and classes often were less structured and offered much more flexibility with asynchronous lectures, open-note exams and forgiving attendance policies.
“Last year while everything was online, I decided to join a couple more clubs and start working in a research lab,” LSA junior Alexa Samani said. “I felt that I had enough time to do everything I wanted to; however, now that mostly everything is in person, I feel very overwhelmed with the amount of time taken up by classes and extracurriculars.”
Asynchronous classes allowed some students to create their own schedules and, occasionally, take online exams open-note. While asynchronous options were often necessary to adapt to the changing needs of students and professors during the COVID-19 pandemic, these classes may have caused some students to go over a year without practicing their organizational or study skills. Similarly, some clubs and other extracurriculars were less demanding during the pandemic since they often consisted of entirely virtual participation. While the return of structure and normalcy is a relief to many students and faculty, the sudden change may put students at higher risk of burning out. Taking the steps to recognize the challenges of returning to campus and preventing burnout before it happens can help students transition with much less stress.
Burnout can be defined as “a negative emotional, physical and mental reaction to prolonged study that results in exhaustion, frustration, lack of motivation and reduced ability in school.” Once you reach the point of burnout, it is difficult to jump back into a positive and productive mindset. While it may feel as though the normal, busy routine of college life shouldn’t necessarily cause burnout, students need to give themselves time to adjust or they will risk overextending themselves.
It has been over a year since everything was in person — as we transition back, every facet of student life feels intensified. “Starting summer job and internship recruitment in person is much more stressful because you are constantly around other people talking about it and comparing experiences,” explained LSA junior Hannah Shipley.
Some students may be more prone to burnout than others due to other compounding factors, causing students that do struggle to question the validity of their experiences. “The monotony of having to be on Zoom and my laptop for over eight hours a day every weekday for the last few semesters made me feel mentally fatigued and burnt out much quicker than I had ever felt before,” LSA junior Ali Abdalla said. “Having in-person classes forces me to go outside and see the sun on my way to class and generally motivates me to study or do work outside of my house.” It is important that even students who do not expect burnout from in-person learning understand the stress others may be experiencing. The entire University of Michigan community should be empathetic toward those who are struggling and take steps to prevent burnout.
On the surface level, there are basic steps students can take to prevent burnout. These include making time for enjoyable activities and socializing, exercising, getting outside, developing relationships with professors, avoiding procrastination, improving time management and maintaining a work-life balance.
More specifically, however, it is essential that leaders of organizations reevaluate the structures and systems that existed prior to COVID-19 to allow students the time to readjust. Continuing to offer flexibility and empathy for members is essential because it can help students find their proper work-life balance and manage their time more effectively.
Students must also advocate for themselves and their own needs. Communicating with professors and student organization leaders about struggles instead of ignoring them and pushing forward allows for a more productive environment. Club leaders and professors can then understand what their students are experiencing and help students succeed while having their personal needs met.
Burnout has always been a challenge for college students, and it is likely every person will experience burnout at some point in their life, whether in school or their career. However, the sudden transition from online to in-person life elevates the risk of burning out considerably. It is essential that all members of the U-M community recognize the unique challenges of this semester and take the steps to prevent burnout now.
Lizzy Peppercorn is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.