Academic Burnout Is Real: Know the Symptoms and Solutions

Academic burnout is a common problem, but you might not know it—even if you’re a student who’s going through it.

Unlike workplace burnout, which is talked about frequently, folks tend to overlook the burnout that’s happening in colleges and high schools around the world. 

According to market research company Gitnux, up to 33% of college and university students report experiencing burnout. This figure is likely higher, as some students may not be aware or comfortable admitting they are going through school burnout.  

Studies also show that those affected by student burnout have lower academic performance, higher risks of depression, and a greater likelihood that they will drop out of school altogether. 

To help you avoid becoming one of these statistics, let’s take a deeper look at college burnout, including the signs it may be affecting you and how to deal with it. 

This article discusses mental health and substance abuse. If you need support with issues, there are resources available to you: 


Academic burnout vs. work burnout

If you read articles about workplace burnout, you’ll see that many of the symptoms and solutions are the same as what we’ve covered here in this article. 

Though the outcomes of burnout may be similar, for students, the factors that contribute to burnout are unique. 

Academic pressure is perhaps the biggest pressure—as students get older and move through high school and college, they take on more and more work, often balancing hours of homework on top of a full class schedule, plus finals, tests, theses, and more. 

On top of this, other stresses come with leaving home and living on your own. Balancing school and work, extracurricular activities, trying to make friends as an adult, and learning all of the adulting skills you need to survive can cause stress and anxiety to skyrocket, and that ignites the flames that lead to student burnout. 

All of these factors together, if left untreated, can easily lead to a quarter-life crisis, which is why it’s so important to recognize the signs of burnout in yourself before they overwhelm you.


Physical symptoms of academic burnout

Your body is often the first indicator that you’re suffering from student burnout—before your heart or brain have picked up on what’s going on. 

Most of the physical symptoms you might experience are tied closely to anxiety and stress: 

  • Sleep issues (too much sleep, not enough sleep, or disrupted sleep) 
  • Increased heart rate 
  • Changes in appetite 
  • Fatigue 
  • Headaches 
  • Stomach pains or digestive issues 
  • Tense and sore muscles 
  • Weakened immune systems (more colds, susceptible to the flu, etc.) 
  • Panic attacks

The academic burnout symptoms you experience will be unique—you may only feel one or two of these things, or many of them at once. 


Emotional symptoms of academic burnout

Your body will help you understand when academic burnout is setting in, but it’s also wise to learn how your emotions might change during stressful periods. 

Pay attention if you notice any of these changes in your behavior or feelings.


Irritability and mood swings

Your roommate spills a cup of coffee on your papers, and you lose your temper and shout at them. 

You receive a less-than-perfect grade on your midterm, and you find it almost impossible to get out of bed the next day. 

You feel happy and positive when you’re with friends, but when you think about work or school, you are overcome with a sense of dread. 

👆 All of these are examples of the kinds of mood changes that can happen as a result of college burnout. 

Moderate mood changes are normal day to day, but if you feel like your emotions are more out of your control than usual, or you notice the negative impact it’s having on relationships with friends and family, it’s indicative of a bigger issue.


Declining academic motivation

Once, your coursework felt rewarding. Now, it’s a burden. 

You find yourself procrastinating more often, putting off assignments until the last possible moment. Deadlines come and go, and your grades start to reflect your waning interest.

This loss of motivation can be gradual. At first, it’s just a single missed assignment or a skipped class. But soon, it’s a pattern. You might start questioning why you chose your major in the first place. The subjects that once intrigued you now seem pointless.

The stress of falling behind only makes it harder to engage. You might find it difficult to get out of bed for morning classes or stay focused during lectures. Each task feels insurmountable, draining your energy and enthusiasm.


Social isolation

When you’re overwhelmed by student burnout, it’s common to withdraw from friends and family, preferring solitude over social interactions. 

Maybe you turn down a gathering with friends to stay home and study. Or you choose to stay at the dorms over the holidays to get some precious time to yourself, but you miss out on family time as a result. 

Social isolation from student burnout can also cause you to lose interest in activities that once made you happy. You consider dropping out of your sports team or skip club meetings. You abandon your hobbies to take care of everything else on your plate.  

It’s easy to write off these changes as a need for more study time or a desire for alone time—and healthy alone time isn’t a bad thing. But with academic burnout, isolation will cause you to miss out on social activities or sacrifice the things that bring you joy.


Unhealthy coping mechanisms

When academic burnout hits, many students will lean on unhealthy coping mechanisms to find temporary relief.

For high school and college students, this might mean an increase in partying and consuming more alcohol or drugs, in search of a temporary escape from the stress. Unfortunately, these short-term coping mechanisms can turn into long-term problems that only make things worse. 

For help with substance abuse, dial 988 or visit the SAMHSA website.

For help with substance abuse, dial 988 or visit the SAMHSA website.  Food can also become a coping tool. Some students might binge eat for comfort, while others skip meals due to stress. Both habits are harmful and can lead to nutritional deficiencies, and like the other coping mechanisms, make it harder to deal with academic burnout in the long run. 

Visit the National Eating Disorders Association or the Eating Recovery Center  for support if you’re facing issues like these. 

Another common method of escape is spending excessive time on social media apps, television, or gaming. Ironically, these distractions can eat up a lot of your time, making it even harder to keep up with your studies. 

We have resources that can help you reduce screen time and regain focus: 


How to deal with burnout in college

You’re already taking measures to protect yourself from college burnout—reading this article shows you’re thinking about the issue, which is the first step. 

Here are the other ways you can deal with academic burnout before it impacts your school career. 


Develop a “self check-in” practice to catch burnout early

Now that we’ve covered the symptoms of academic burnout, you might think you’ll easily spot them before they become a problem. 

But you can only do this if you are actively working to check in with yourself, and thoughtfully explore how you’re feeling. 

You might use the words mindfulness or meditation to describe this, but ultimately the goal is the same: Spend time every day, or a few times a week, tuning into your body and exploring your feelings. 

There are any number of ways to do this: start a daily journal, go for long walks without music or phones, sit and watch the sunset, spend an hour stretching or doing yoga, practice deep breathing before you go to sleep. 

The way you practice self check-ins is entirely up to you, but here are some resources to help you get started: 


Lean on resources to deal with burnout

It’s common to feel like you need to resolve your academic burnout on your own or just push through it until it’s over. A far better strategy is to use the resources available to you to lighten the burden of academic stress.

If you’re a college student, reach out to your campus counseling services. Many universities offer free or low-cost counseling to students. These professionals can provide support, teach coping strategies, and help you navigate your academic and personal challenges.

High school students can get in touch with a trusted teacher or their guidance counsellor to help them tackle academic burnout. 

There are also many academic support resources available on college campuses. Tutoring centers, writing labs, and study groups can help you stay on top of your coursework and reduce the feeling of being overwhelmed. 

Professors and academic advisors are also valuable resources. Communicate to them openly and clearly what you’re struggling with. Most often, professors will help you when you need it, and if not, you can go to your academic counselor or the department head for more support.


Schedule strategic breaks (and don’t guilt yourself out of them) 

Balancing study time with strategic breaks is essential for managing academic burnout. It might feel counterintuitive, but stepping away from your work can make it easier to tackle it in the long run. 

Start by scheduling short breaks during your study sessions. Aim for a 10- to 15-minute break every hour to stretch, walk around, or do something relaxing. This practice helps to reset your focus and prevent mental fatigue.

In addition to short breaks, plan longer breaks throughout your week. Take an afternoon off to enjoy a hobby, spend time with friends, or just relax however you want to. Engaging in activities you enjoy can recharge your mind and body, making it easier to tackle your academic responsibilities with renewed energy.

You may find that you attempt to talk yourself out of these breaks. 

I could just write another page. 

I haven’t worked hard enough to earn a break. 

Instead of taking a break, I’ll just switch tasks.

Beware of these kinds of thoughts. 

Make these strategic breaks non-negotiable with yourself. Otherwise, you’ll end up putting them off, and academic burnout will happen even faster.


Know when to take a longer break

Sometimes, managing academic burnout requires more than just strategic short breaks. If you’re experiencing chronic student burnout, it might be time to consider taking a longer break to reassess your goals and ponder what you want in life.

Taking a semester off can give you the space you need to recover and focus on your mental health without the constant pressure of academic deadlines. Use this time to explore new interests, travel, work, or simply rest. A break from the academic environment can offer a fresh perspective and renewed energy.

If your current school environment is contributing to your stress, consider transferring to a different institution. Sometimes, a change of scenery and a new approach to education can make a significant difference in your well-being. Research schools that offer better support systems, smaller class sizes, or programs that align more closely with your interests and learning style.

Furthermore, the traditional college isn’t the only path to success. If you’re struggling with the conventional academic route, consider alternatives to college such as online courses, taking a gap year, vocational training, apprenticeships, or moving into the workforce. These options can provide valuable skills and education without the same level of stress (and resulting burnout.)



Don’t let academic burnout jeopardize your mental health or your school career. Keep these signs in mind, and check in with yourself to see whether you might be approaching burnout. 

There is no shame in seeking help and support—this is how students succeed and make it through their schooling years without suffering the dangers of school burnout.