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  • Writer's pictureFarah Hassan

Stress & Burnout amongst Students

Part 1. Recognising the Problem: Stress or Burnout?


The body's reaction to feeling threatened or under pressure is known as stress [1]. Stress can affect our mood, body, and relationships. Some signs of stress include feeling overwhelmed, irritable, anxious, having difficulty concentrating, eating more or less than usual, or feeling tired all the time [1]. Stress amongst students includes a range of factors involving one’s environment, perception of that environment, and one's ability to effectively deal with both [2]. Researchers for decades have acknowledged that some level of stress is a necessary part of life [2,6,10]. It can motivate individuals to challenge themselves and perform better [1,2,6,10]. Prof. Daniela Kaufer at Berkeley [9] says,

“Some amounts of stress are good to push you just to the level of optimal alertness, behavioural and cognitive performance. Stress can be something that makes you better, but it is a question of how much, how long and how you interpret or perceive it.”

So, when does it become a hindrance?

As with adults, too much stress for too long a period can lead children and young adults to a state of burnout [2]. This prolonged stress can promote unhealthy and maladaptive ways of dealing with problems [2]. As Wright (2020) describes it, “At first, kids may continue to perform well at the things they are trying to achieve, but they may not have the time to rest long enough to feel that sense of accomplishment before they take on their next challenge. This can eventually lead to prolonged exhaustion and burnout.”



What is Burnout?


Burnout is often referred to as a three-dimensional construct which includes exhaustion, cynicism, and reduced personal accomplishment [3,5,13].


Exploring Burnout in the context of school:


Academic burnout has been characterised by emotional exhaustion, an indifferent (cynical) attitude towards school, as well as a sense of inadequacy [3,5,8,12]. Exhaustion can represent pressures at school that leads to strain, stress, or fatigue. Indifference or cynicism is the negative attitude that can be seen as a loss of interest towards academic work, school-life events, and a poorer relationship with teachers and peers [3]. A sense of inadequacy as a student can mean decreased feelings of competence in the ability to cope with school challenges. Burnout has been associated with higher absenteeism and lower academic performance [4]. It has also been found to lead to depressive symptoms and increases the risk of dropping out from school [7].

Existing studies indicate that academic burnout may not be geographically restricted and has been observed among students from different schools with varied academic policies across the world [13].

Given the current climate, more resources are required to understand and support students’ engagement in schools and prevent academic burnout [7].




Part 2. Addressing the problem Here are some measures that might help alleviate stress and burnout:

Emotional check-ins

Acknowledging your emotions is key to feeling better. Instead of pushing these thoughts away, talk to your parents and teachers about how you’re feeling. For example, if it has impacted your ability to complete certain tasks, ask them for guidance. Remember that they are there to help and support you.

Better time management

Ask your parents or mentor for help with time management. Sit with them to create a realistic schedule/timetable and make time for activities you find enjoyable that will help relieve your exhaustion.


Sufficient sleep and exercise

Inadequate sleep and a decreased exercise frequency were associated with risk of burnout [14]. If you don’t like exercising, try to find other physical activities (e.g. sports) that you enjoy. With regards to sleep, the general guidance is that 3-6 year olds need 10-12 hours, 7-12 year olds need 10-11 hours and 12-18 year olds need around 8-9 hours per day [11].


Read more tips here.

 

Further resources:


 

References:


[1] Feeling stressed? NHS choices. NHS. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/every-mind-matters/mental-health-issues/stress.

[2] D’aurora, D.L. and Fimian, M.J. (1988). Dimensions of life and school stress experienced by young people. Psychology in the schools, 25(1), pp.44–53.


[3] Gabola, P. et al. (2021). Adolescents’ school burnout: A comparative study between Italy and Switzerland. European journal of investigation in health, psychology and education, 11(3), pp.849–859.


[4] Jagodics, B. and Szabó, É. (2022). Student Burnout in Higher Education: A Demand-Resource Model Approach. Trends in Psychology.


[5] Luo, Y. et al. (2016). The effect of perfectionism on school burnout among adolescence: The mediator of self-esteem and coping style. Personality and individual differences, 88, pp.202–208.


[6] Rudland, J.R., Golding, C. and Wilkinson, T.J. (2020). The stress paradox: how stress can be good for learning. Medical education, 54(1), pp.40–45.


[7] Salmela‐Aro, K. et al. (2021). Adolescents’ Longitudinal School Engagement and Burnout Before and During COVID‐19—The Role of Socio‐Emotional Skills. Journal of research on adolescence, 31(3), pp.796–807.


[8] Salmela‐Aro, K. et al. (2009). School Burnout Inventory (SBI). European journal of psychological assessment, 25(1), pp.48–57.

[9] Sanders, R. (2013) Researchers find out why some stress is good for you, Berkeley News. Available at: https://news.berkeley.edu/2013/04/16/researchers-find-out-why-some-stress-is-good-for-you.

[10] Selye, H. (1976). Stress without distress. In Psychopathology of human adaptation. Springer, Boston, MA, pp. 137-146.

[11] Sleep. NHS choices. NHS. Available at: https://camhs.hacw.nhs.uk/sleep.

[12] Vinter, K., Aus, K. and Arro, G. (2021). Adolescent girls’ and boys’ academic burnout and its associations with cognitive emotion regulation strategies. Educational psychology (Dorchester-on-Thames), 41(8), pp.1061–1077.


[13] Walburg, V. (2014). Burnout among high school students: A literature review. Children and youth services review, 42, pp.28–33.

[14] Wolf, M.R. and Rosenstock, J.B. (2017). Inadequate Sleep and Exercise Associated with Burnout and Depression Among Medical Students. Academic psychiatry, 41(2), pp.174–179. [15] Wright, L.W. (2020) Burnout in school, Understood. Available at: https://www.understood.org/en/articles/burning-out-in-school-what-it-means-and-how-to-help.


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