The countdown to the start of 2024 that chimed through the houses of South Africa simultaneously marked the beginning of a new academic year at UP. As Opening Day approaches, veterans and eager first-years alike prepare themselves for the start of their lectures.


With the return of students to campus, a buzz of excitement fills the jacaranda-lined paths of Tuks. However, mixed in with this excitement is an underlying angst, one present in students’ minds but not quite reaching their lips – the anxiety and pressures of academic performance and the threat of burnout.


According to a blog published on the University of the People website, academic burnout can be defined as an obstructive mental, emotional, and physical reaction to studying that culminates in a lack of motivation, exhaustion, and frustration. It is considered a chronic condition stemming from overwork in a long-term study.


Burnout can be detrimental to a person’s ability to perform academically and also to their general well-being. Warning signs and symptoms of burnout include the following, per the American Institute of Stress: an overwhelming feeling of exhaustion, which contributes to chronic stress; a decline in enthusiasm about varsity; dreading lectures; excessive worry about upcoming assessments. Students suffering from burnout may experience increased levels of irritability or anger, as well as anxiety-related restlessness.


Stress leaves students feeling drained, making it difficult to complete tasks on time or to find the motivation to study and attend lectures. This creates a catch-22 situation, as this mental exhaustion often causes a pupil’s marks to suffer, which exacerbates their already lowered enthusiasm for academics, and the cycle continues.


Academic burnout can affect anyone, from the dean’s list of candidates to the ‘I just want to pass’ pupils. However, burnout is more prevalent in first-year students who are unaccustomed to the new environment of university life, anxiety-prone individuals, and first-generation university students facing additional parental or cultural pressures.


So, what do you do if you have burnout?

According to Chloe Lane, an economics graduate from the University of Reading, the following can be done to prevent and treat burnout: It is essential to take regular breaks. Consider setting timers to measure work periods, ensuring that you have regular intervals for rest when creating your schedule. During your rest periods, try to do something that takes you away from your workspace, such as a short walk. This aids in dissociating your mind from varsity and clearing your thoughts. Secondly, you should aim to understand the root of your stress by breaking down and identifying the issues that are contributing to your anxiety. By doing this, you can more easily compartmentalise the problem, making it feel less overwhelming. Lastly, focus on a solution-based approach to the tasks at hand. Although it is easier said than done, try not to look at your stress factors as unclimbable mountains. Instead, break down the issue into smaller, more achievable goals.


If you feel overwhelmed by university, the most important thing you can do is reach out. UP has excellent facilities to assist you and boasts an exceptional Student Counselling Unit with qualified mental health professionals available. For peer-based assistance, try speaking to other students in your degree. Sometimes, just expressing your anxiety and getting it off your chest can be beneficial.


The new year may bring challenges, but it is also filled with the prospect of excitement, success, and moving one step closer to getting that degree. As Hamza Khan said, “Burn bright, not out.”

Aleksa Kruger
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