APU Careers & Learning Online Learning Original

Avoiding Academic Burnout during the Coronavirus Pandemic

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By Loren Germann-McClain
Senior Advisor, School of STEM, APUS

The current coronavirus pandemic has uprooted our habits and way of living. As a result, the various stresses related to the pandemic can take a serious toll on your well-being and lead to a feeling of burnout in your personal, professional, and academic lives.

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Finding time to walk away from your daily list of duties can be a struggle in normal times. But participating in a lockdown or abiding by social distancing guidelines causes another level of frustration and stress, making it nearly impossible to find the time to step away from schoolwork. As a result, it’s easy to feel a sense of academic burnout.

The Signs of Academic Burnout

Pursuing a degree over several years involves hard work and stress, which leads to academic burnout. Here are some of the signs of burnout:

  • Demotivation
  • Exhaustion
  • Frustration
  • Social withdrawal and disconnection

These feelings create new challenges and create unnecessary disruptions in your life. But if you are experiencing these feelings, please know you are not alone.

The feelings you have are normal, and the demands of this new way of working only add to the stressors you had in your pre-pandemic life. However, there are easy ways to avoid academic burnout.

Manage Your Time Wisely

Many people often work late into the night to avoid interruptions. To ensure you perform at your best, find the time to step away from studying and allow yourself time to recharge and focus.

While we encourage you to find a quiet space and a dedicated time to work on assignments without interruption, the same principle can be applied to “scheduled alert interruptions.” These enforced breaks at self-prescribed intervals allow you to step away from your work and reset your focus.

Alert interruptions come in many different forms, and you will need to find out what works best for you and your way of learning. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Utilize the 20-20-20 rule. For every 20 minutes you spend staring at a screen, stop and look at an object 20 feet away for 20 seconds. This habit will ease eyestrain and minimize the effects of eye fatigue.
  • Take a 10-minute break for every two hours of continuous work you do.
  • Set appropriate and manageable expectations for yourself. When you’re meeting deadlines, start as early as possible and complete your schoolwork in smaller, easy to complete tasks. After you have completed one group of tasks, reward yourself with a five-minute break away from your study space and computer.

Balance Schoolwork with Non-Academic Activities

As a student and a professional, you know that setting goals and achieving those goals is important. But when you are trying to relax, sometimes goal setting is the furthest thing from your mind.

There is an upside to having downtime, however. With an extended period of unscheduled time, you can set aside deadlines and expectations in favor of doing the things you want to do, rather than what you need to do. Use your free time to participate in something you enjoy and find a sense of relaxation in focusing on yourself, your family, and friends.

Unplug Your Electronics and Recharge to Avoid Academic Burnout

Have you finished your assignments and goals for the week? Then make sure you remove yourself from your study zone and unplug from your computer. It is even better if you can unplug from all electronics, but we understand that for some people, that is not an option.

If you cannot pull yourself away from all of your work, go outside and put yourself in a less stressful environment, or at the very least, open your windows. There are proven benefits to simply sitting outside and spending time in nature, which lowers your stress and restores for your mental health.

Sometimes a change in view can be helpful in encouraging concentration. As a result, you’ll be able to perform better once you return to your studies. And for those times that you’re feeling academic burnout and need to speak with an academic advisor, we are easily available by phone or email.

About the Author

Loren Germann-McClain is currently in her second year as an Academic Advisor with the School of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) at American Public University System. She holds an M.A. in English – Rhetoric and Composition from California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, as well as an M.A. in English Literature from Southern New Hampshire University.

Loren previously worked in human resources and public relations at a public library in Indiana, where she helped develop a project to bring mental health first aid and awareness to public and academic libraries across the state. She has earned grants to help develop coding programs for school-age children and develop free, extracurricular activities to help align with the Indiana State standards for computer science, technology, and coding. Her work has helped empower Hoosier students to be equipped with the critical and computational problem-solving skills they will need in order to succeed in a digitally powered and ever-evolving world. 

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