There is no doubt that high school students today are under a lot of pressure. Eight hour school days, combined with rigorous course loads and extracurricular activities, are a significant source of stress for students. Students feel the immense need to perform exceptionally well both academically and socially, which can lead to a range of negative consequences towards their well-being and mental health.
The infamous “sophomore slump” is a term coined to describe the academic and motivational decline that students often face during their second year of high school. This phrase is not applicable to just sophomore year, but can extend to a student’s entire high school career—especially as they take on more responsibilities. As students progress through high school, the academic demands increase, and the pressure to excel follows suit.
All that to say, high school students are at a higher risk of experiencing high levels of stress. As pressure and stress continue to build without the relief of a break, students will become overwhelmed—leading to a mental state known as burnout.
What is burnout?
Burnout is a state of mental, physical, or emotional exhaustion that arises as a response to stress. It can take different forms, including physical burnout resulting from overexertion of the body, and mental burnout resulting from overexertion of the mind. In the case of high school students, the latter is more commonly seen as academic burnout. This is especially true for students juggling busy class schedules with numerous extracurricular activities; with limited free time, these students are constantly under pressure to do it all. As some students may know firsthand, this pressure can have lasting effects on not only their academic performance and social lives, but also their mental health.
What are the symptoms of burnout?
Symptoms of burnout can manifest itself in different ways for each individual, but here are some common ones:
- Fatigue and/or insomnia
- Mental exhaustion
- Lack of motivation
- Disinterest in activities one previously enjoyed
- Inability to focus or meet deadlines
- Feelings of anxiety or depression
- Increased irritability/mood fluctuations
What are some ways to address and prevent burnout?
- Take breaks: Taking breaks may seem like a minor solution, but they can have a tremendous impact on your overall well-being. Allowing your body the time to recharge can reduce those levels of stress that have been building up. If you are spending long periods of time studying and find yourself growing increasingly frustrated or restless, it might be time for a break. It seems counterintuitive, but taking short breaks in between bouts of studying can actually improve productivity rather than hinder it. It is important to note that not all breaks are created equal, as endless scrolling on the Internet can be less effective.
- Prioritize self-care: It can be easy to get caught up in the demands and pressures of school, but don’t forget to take care of yourself! While it may seem tempting to sacrifice sleep or skip meals to fit in more studying and extracurricular activities, neglecting self-care can lead to long-term consequences for your physical and mental health. Be kind to yourself—whether that means treating yourself to some ice cream or taking a warm bath, you deserve to feel your best.
- Participate in non-school related activities: Immerse yourself in activities that have nothing to do with school. Oftentimes, students pursue certain activities for the sole purpose of enhancing their college applications—and not due to genuine interest. Participating in activities that align with your interests can provide a sense of fulfillment and happiness that is difficult to replicate elsewhere. It is also important to make time for social interactions as well; not only can doing so offer some relief from school-related stress, but it can also help you develop meaningful connections with others.
- Know your own limits: Don’t try to do it all just because you see that one of your peers is able to. Our bodies are not built to constantly work at maximum capacity without rest. You know yourself better than anyone else, so if your body gives you signs that it is overworked or exhausted, listen to it. Focus on doing what you can at a pace and cadence that works for you, and remember that each individual has their own limits. Practice saying no to prevent overcommitments and allow yourself the time to put yourself first. The longest relationship you will have is the one with yourself, so remember to invest in yourself.
- Get enough sleep: There is a reason why the importance of sleep is constantly emphasized, and that is because it is crucial to achieving optimal health and performance. Adolescents should aim for at least 8-10 hours of sleep per night—although the majority of high school teens are nowhere near meeting that goal. In that case, teens should consider taking a nap during the day to make up for the lack of sleep. The results of a 2012 study by researchers at Case Western University and Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital demonstrated that a daily nap can increase productivity and focus levels. Sleep has also been proven to improve memory, immune system function, and even mood.
- Seek support: Sometimes the answer can be as simple as just talking to someone. Reach out to a trusted friend, family member, or mental health professional who will lend a listening ear. Whether you want advice or just need a place to vent, sharing your thoughts and feelings can help you gain a new perspective and allow you to release some of the tension you were holding onto. Looking to others for help might be a bit difficult at first, but humans are inherently social creatures; seeking support and connection with others is a natural part of being human. It’s okay to ask for help when you need it.
How Student Hires Can Help
Here at Student Hires, we understand the importance of prioritizing one’s mental health. We hope to educate and equip students with the proper resources and tools to manage stress and anxiety effectively. We partner with schools, districts, universities, and employers to create experiential K-12 after-school, summer, and youth educational programs led by local college and university students. Our vision is to help shape students into well-rounded individuals with strong academic and interpersonal skills, ready to pursue higher education or enter the workforce. Through our programs, we aim to promote mental wellness and provide students with the support and resources they need to thrive.
Burnout affects many students, but it is something that is easily identifiable and preventable. Being able to recognize the signs of burnout is crucial to preventing it from worsening. From there, students need to be proactive in managing their stress levels. This can manifest in a variety of ways, of which include adjusting one’s workload, practicing self-care techniques, or turning towards professional help. Mental health should not be overlooked, but treated with the same level of importance as physical health.