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Workaholism can lead to burnout

Time. It’s something that many college students cannot get enough of. From studying into the late evening hours to attending campus events, it’s as if there isn’t enough time to even take a breath. 

Just three years ago, the COVID-19 pandemic put an immediate halt to all academic and social activities. Students’ activities were slashed to none. Today, however, the hustle and bustle on college campuses has returned and students are back to feeling the brunt of a full college routine.

Workaholism and burnout are affecting the lives of many NMSU students as increasingly busy schedules undermine students’ mental health and challenge their ability to make personal connections. (Photo by Noah Apodaca/Kokopelli)

Workaholism and burnout are affecting the lives of many NMSU students. Due to incredibly busy schedules attributed to schoolwork and other activities, developing personal connections among peers can be challenging.  

Freshman business student Aiden Mitchell is a member of the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity, is an Interfraternity Council delegate and works as an ASNMSU intern, all while studying international business as a full-time student. Mitchell explained that working so much is highly stressful and has negatively affected his social life.

According to a 2017 report published by the American Addiction Centers, 45% of college students were experiencing high levels of stress. Between 2010 and 2015, 30% of students sought out some type of counseling services. As a result of the pandemic, those percentages have increased.

Active Minds, a nonprofit aiming to promote mental health care among teens and young adults, found in a 2020 survey that one in five college students’ mental health significantly worsened under COVID-19 measures. Additionally, 80% of college-level respondents indicated their mental health was negatively impacted during the early pandemic period. The residual effects of the pandemic are still being felt today.

As work continues to weigh on the minds of many college students, some have taken a step back to prioritize their mental health over ever-increasing workloads. Former NMSU student Leeann Evans said that when she began her college experience in 2020, she never expected to take a break from school. She felt there was a stigma attached to leaving school and that if she left, she might never return.

Evans did leave NMSU in 2022 and points to her 17-credit course load as a major reason for deciding to drop out temporarily. She added that the stress of not knowing what she wanted to study also added to her long list of stressors. 

“It’s really clarifying, to be honest, to take some time off,” Evans said.

According to the American Addiction Centers, the top five biggest stressors among college students are exams, financial issues, academic performance pressure, homework and work outside of school. Studying, balancing and maintaining a healthy work/life routine follow close behind.

Both Mitchell and Evans mentioned that the idea of taking a break from school is something that is looked down upon in the academic community. Social pressures from parents, peers and society play a role as well.

Mitchell said that pressures from his family and concerns about his scholarship expiring were deciding factors to stay in school instead of taking a gap year to travel and decompress after graduating from high school.

“My lottery scholarship would only be valid for about six months, so I only had those six months to maybe go out and go travel, but I didn’t have that flexibility,” he said. “I’ll just suck it up and go to school now.”

Evans mentioned feeling similar pressures to stay in school. 

“It’s also a feeling of, what else am I supposed to do,” she said, in reference to life after high school. “It’s the obvious next step that everyone is pushing us towards.”

Exams, financial issues and academic pressures are among the top three stressors for college students across the United States. (Image courtesy of American Addiction Centers)

Brittany Devine, a mental health professional who owns her own practice, Nurture through Nature Counseling, said that stressors for college students aren’t just centered around adapting to new educational systems, but that perfectionism, procrastination and not prioritizing self-care also play major roles in overworking.

“The other thing to consider is that the collegiate system is designed in a way to incentivize students to overwork,” Devine said. “The messages students receive about being a good student and what that entails, along with society’s value on productivity, create a system where the rest and self-care required to prevent or manage burnout are devalued.”

Leeann Evans said while she values her decision to drop out temporarily to consolidate her thoughts and lift academic pressures off her shoulders, she does miss being a student and the process of taking in new information.

“I learned that I do have a desire to learn,” she said. “I feel like I wouldn’t have learned that about myself had I not taken a break, because when you’re in the heat of it, you don’t feel like you’re learning.”

Evans will return to NMSU in the fall of 2023 as a business administration major with a fresh academic slate and new ambitions.

While Aiden Mitchell’s college career has just begun, he continues to forge ahead with his academic and professional responsibilities. Despite the effects of school on his mental and physical health, he mentioned that the investment of hard work today will result in strong outcomes in the future. It’s a process that involves sacrifice and risk, but it’s not stopping him.

“If you don’t take that risk,” Mitchell said, “you’ll never know how great you’ll be.”

Experts cite that in order for students to avoid burnout and stay healthy during their collegiate experiences, it’s important to prioritize self-care and develop good time management habits to assist with homework and exam preparation.

Southern New Hampshire University notes that if students are already feeling burnt out, it may be of benefit to shake up their routine or take a step back to reevaluate workloads and other obligations. Reaching out to friends, family members or even university advisers can help students create a better work/life balance. 

If you or someone you know is struggling with workaholism or other behavioral addictions, visit the Addiction Center online or call 866-440-3814.

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