‘If you pulled a ‘C’ in a class … that’s OK’: Burnout settling in for some students ahead of finals

For many students, the stress of the pandemic and the lack of spring break has increased feelings of burnout. (Archive photo by Rowan Jones | Collegian Media Group)

This past week, Matthew Long, junior in food science and industry, said he’s been playing video games and going to the gym more often than normal. While working out or interacting with friends online seems like a productive social life, Long said he feels his schoolwork has been slipping as a result.

Long said he credits his struggles to how the semester has gone. With high expectations from professors and his own redundant tendencies, he said he is mentally drained.

“Procrastination has always been my biggest enemy,” Long said. “I’ve been doing the same thing over and over again all semester. Everything’s redundant, and I’ve gotten tired of it. I can feel a difference.”

Long is one of many Kansas State students encountering preparation issues and lacking motivation for finals. Some students are burned out for the semester – something Long said is from the absence of spring break.

“With no spring break, it’s all been school, school, school constantly – and then you have people who work, too,” Long said. “We’re just burned out. I feel like I can speak for others too, at least for my friends.”

In a Collegian Twitter poll posted on May 5, 59 percent of voters felt they were both unprepared for finals and burned out this semester. In total, 90 percent of voters said they were burned out regardless of preparation and just over 63 percent said they were not prepared regardless of their burned-out status.

Maggie Billman, Student Governing Association speaker pro tempore and sophomore in secondary education, said she agreed with the poll results.

“Personally, I’ve been seeing burnout from my peers, and it’s not just because we’re having to finish the semester online,” Billman said. “People are still concerned about their families. People are still concerned about making a living – all that sort of stuff that’s not going away. I think people are still having a hard time adjusting to a new normal and what the world will look like when we’re out of this storm. I definitely think there’s a problem.”

With 16-straight weeks of class, newly elected Student Body President Michael Dowd said he wasn’t surprised to see burnout from a lack of spring break and just one mental health awareness day.

“I’d say part of it is from the pandemic since our environment is different than it has ever been before, but I think the other part is that we’ve gone 16 weeks in classes with one day off,” Dowd said.

Along with burnout, Billman said she’s frustrated with how she’s heard some professors are handling distance learning during COVID-19. She said she feels like professors aren’t being held as accountable to the flexibility students are expected to manage all of the time.

“One of my main frustrations is just noticing whenever a professor uploads a final project, it hasn’t been modified for several years,” Billman said. “I think that is pretty reflective, regardless of the modality and the crap that people are going through, … but I think for a lot of people, there’s been a big lack of grace and empathy that maybe could’ve been handled a little better.”

Cameron Koger, junior in marketing and finance and Dowd’s running mate, said “FOMO” – the fear of missing out – also factors into student motivation. With nice weather and a surge of vaccine rollout, students are gathering again, looking to get back to pre-pandemic normality, he said.

“I know several people who didn’t go out on their 21st birthday to maintain protocols or missed family outings to play things safe,” Koger said. “I think after a year of going through the COVID-19 pandemic, people are becoming restless and wanting to do all they can do to end the pandemic, but in doing that, it is contingent on vaccine rollout for a safer university experience. … That has definitely played into burnout.”

For students fighting the temptation to put work off or trying to power through burnout, the three SGA leaders offered advice like embracing your close friends to seeking advice about their mental health.

“I’ve always heard the five-minute, five-year rule,” Koger said. “If it isn’t going to matter in five years, let it bother you for five minutes and then let it go. That’s not saying don’t take your finals seriously or work hard on final projects, but [don’t] allow yourself to worry to an extensive degree on something that more than likely won’t affect you in five years.”

Koger said he finds little ways to relieve stress and reduce burnout, like skipping rocks at Tuttle Creek Lake.

“I go to a place named Cameron Cove,” he said. “No one knows about it except me. I carved my name in the tree and I just skip rocks. … I think if you can just get away and find something that calms you, then when you come back you have gotten rid of some of the burnout.”

Billman said students should focus on what they have overcome in the past year and use that as motivation to finish the semester as strong as they can.

“Give yourself grace,” Billman said. “Understand that we’ve survived something we never thought we would have to put up with, and that is a feat within itself. If you pulled a ‘C’ in a class instead of a ‘B,’ you know what, if that’s not going to majorly impact your future, that’s okay. Give yourself grace and love yourself through it. … Reach out to the resources campus offers, too.”