The pressure of managing school, extracurriculars, work and family/social life leaves students on empty (PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY ADAM AKINS AND GARMAN XU)

Heavy workloads lead to student burnout

Amid school work, research projects and the college application season, many students are feeling the effects of burnout. Researchers who study high school students have described burnout as the result of too much stress, leading to exhaustion, a feeling of inadequacy and cynicism, which can have negative impacts on a student’s mental and physical health.  

College application stress

Although many high school seniors have had full schedules throughout high school, the upcoming deadlines for college essays and applications have impacted their workloads and stress levels.

Seniors Savanna Karmue and Shakhzoda Khodajakhonova said they feel pressure to maintain their grades because of their significance in college admissions.

“People only see you for your grades,” Karmue said. “So, whenever I mess up, I feel like I am a mess-up. College is around the corner, and colleges just sees people as their grades.” 

In order to look good for college applications, some seniors are hesitant to drop activities or classes and prefer to hang on with the status quo even though the workload is stressful.

Both Khodajakhonova and Karmue are the leaders of their own clubs and have other extracurricular commitments in addition to schoolwork.

In addition to running the choir and philanthropy clubs, Khodajakhonova is a co-president for the philosophy club. She also plays girls varsity volleyball and does a lot of work as an attorney on Country Day’s Mock Trial team. 

Karmue is the president of her non-profit, Happy Heart Advice, and also serves on the Sacramento County Youth Advisory board of Mental Health.

“I feel like I’m just grinding through, and it’s just another thing for me to put on my apps,” Karmue said. “It just sucks because I started these extracurriculars because I actually had a passion for it, but now I feel like I’m just trying to finish it for college.”

Tough balancing act

  In addition to balancing multiple academic courses, senior Amaya Anguiano’s experience with burnout left little room for socialization.

“I found it hard to find the time to talk to my friends because I felt school was so important even though it was hard for me to get schoolwork done, “ Anguiano said. “I needed to get that out of the way first and then I could go and have fun with my friends, but it never really happened that way.”

Burnout is not just a senior problem, however.

  Freshman Jaq Howes said he feels pressure to perform well academically. Burnout has been a problem for him this year because his school and his extracurricular work have been stacking up.

“I have a lot of lessons when I get home from school, three Chinese lessons, one math and one Spanish per week,” Howes said. “It gets kind of difficult to multitask everything.”

Missing motivation 

Burnout does not happen overnight. Rather, the accumulation of different factors including expectations to succeed, busy schedules and developmental changes can build up over time. 

As a result, Khodajakhonova said she has a general loss of motivation in her attitude toward maintaining her classwork.

“This pressure just shrinks the energy and motivation out of you. So now it’s not that you’re doing it to learn, you’re just doing it to finish it,” Khodajakhonova said.  

Health impacts

In addition to impacting motivation and socialization, burnout can cause potential concerns for the well-being of students as well. 

Researchers have found that when students endure long periods of stress they can suffer from physical, affective and cognitive impacts. 

Freshman Howes said it is easy to tell if he’s burned out—there are several obvious indicators he displays, both visual and emotional. They include bags under his eyes and bad posture along with an overall irritable and grumpy mood.

His negative mood drastically changes his productivity when it comes to getting his work done.

“Whenever I feel upset in general, I start procrastinating a lot which makes me even more upset in general,” Howes said. “If I don’t get my work done, I can’t do any of the other things I like to do when I get home.”

Khodajakhonova has similar experiences in regard to her mood being impacted by burnout. 

“You’re just too tired to feel anything,” she said. 

Both Karmue and Khodajakhonova recognize the importance of taking care of their well-being. However, they both haven’t found much success in their efforts to alleviate that stress amidst their busy schedules.

In the past, Khodajakhonova used to follow her own weekly tradition: Self-care Sunday, dedicated to helping her mental health. Every Sunday, she would do a combination of maintaining a skincare routine, treating herself to acai bowls, exercising and journaling among other activities as stress relievers for a mental reset. Unfortunately, self-care Sunday hasn’t happened in two years. 

Similarly, Karmue added that she used to have a motivational, self-reflective podcast she would regularly release every Monday. But because of college applications, extracurriculars and keeping up with school, she said she no longer has the energy to do it anymore even if she wanted to.

“You don’t even want to have fun because having fun is so much work and energy for me,” Karmue said.  

Stress reduction tips

Students have had varying experiences reaching out for help with balancing their schedules.

In the past, Howes talked to the school’s social and emotional counselor for help, but has since lost the time and motivation to seek help on campus. Instead, he decided to shoulder his mental burnout by himself.

Even so, Howes said it sometimes is hard to deal with burnout all by himself. He feels like he’s trapped in a constant cycle of stress stemming from not getting things done quickly. 

Beginning with a bad mood, he said it leads to constant procrastination which leads to the loss of personal time, which impacts his mental health.

“By sacrificing that time, you kind of get stuck in that hellhole,” he said. “There’s not much I can do about it.”

  Senior Anguiano was able to find more success in consulting the SCDS Academic Resource Center while battling time-management challenges presented by COVID-19 in her junior year. 

Although last year, she had a rough start enrolling in a rigorous schedule and returning to in-person classes after the pandemic, Anguiano said working out a focused work schedule with Country Day Learning Specialist Tara Adams helped her manage her academics and decrease her stress.

“When I was at school, I tried to get as much work done so that when I got home, I could finish up what I needed to, and have the rest of the day to relax,” Anguiano said. “Ms. Adams helped me with planning out a schedule for the weekend for different assignments for each day.”

A plan to plan

To combat stress that leads to burnout, Adams suggested students become proactive planners. 

In addition to documenting goals and writing a physical planner, she encourages students to make the effort to break up their schedules and study sessions by taking breaks.

Adams strongly recommends planning activities and then completing each task in multiple blocks. She said taking the time to make a plan and follow it might help many students get better control of workload management. 

“It’s such a simple task, but for some reason, it’s really tough for students to just find that time to sit down and chunk up what their day looks like,” she said. “But when you have an overview of what your day looks like, what your week looks and even your month, you’re able to visualize what you have going on.”

Adams suggests using a timer to build strong habits. Whether it is for a  reminder to write down goals or to take a break, she said having them planned for a longer period of time will greatly improve getting work done consistently.

“It takes 90 days to build a habit,” she said. “So if you’re going to try a strategy, try it for three full months.”

“Set an alarm and go through your schedule and write out what you have,” Adams said. “Hold yourself accountable every single day and then see if that improves your habits. But you have to give it time.”

If you or someone you know is struggling with and or has questions about burnout, contact or go to the Academic Resource Center on campus for help.

By Garrett and Garman Xu

This story was originally published in the Oct. 25 issue of The Octagon

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