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Credit: Emily Xu

A common misconception is that a major symptom of student burnout is poor grades. Some students have found themselves with more time on their hands during the pandemic. But for others, myself included, time management is more of an issue than ever. I have great grades, but since quarantine — with my pre-med courses, multiple extracurriculars, and 3 part-time jobs — I have never felt more burned out in my life. I know I’m far from the only one. I find myself constantly seeking study strategies from peers, only to realize that they too are experiencing extreme stress during these trying times. 

We all have these moments, and in some cases, it’s hard to pull yourself out of burnout. Once you fall in that trap, it’s difficult to escape, and you may digress into a deeper state of despair. When left unchecked, burnout for extended periods of time can lead to mental health conditions.

Many students have reported that virtual learning entails a much greater workload than usual. Students often are told that they’re “not alone,” but there must be a balance between knowing they're not alone and feeling like their experiences are undermined simply because other students feel the same way. There’s no doubt that we all experience emotions differently, and the same applies to burnout and extreme stress. 

It’s not only Penn students who fall prey to prolonged exhaustion, but also professors. Now is a perfect storm for burnout, due to the nature of distance learning, demanding academic expectations, unrelenting career pressures, and pandemic-related stressors.

The solutions seem simple. We’re often told to give ourselves breaks, cut down on extracurriculars, and hone in on study strategies. However, it’s rarely so straightforward when we feel like our lives have fallen into a cycle. Of course, it’s important to develop healthy coping mechanisms and study strategies. Often, I find myself needing a break, whether that includes browsing through TikTok or watching Netflix, yet sometimes I don’t feel like I have the time for that. 

What I’ve learned is that we shouldn’t feel ashamed of stepping away and communicating to others, “Sorry, I just can’t handle that right now.” It shouldn’t be selfish to say no or to delay an assignment or extracurricular; it’s not just about maintaining a productive schedule, but rather about setting boundaries. Feeling overwhelmed is all too common, but it should no longer be an inherent part of the college experience.

What’s more, career or academic pressures should never matter more than your mental health. You should never fault yourself for doing what’s best for you. Remember that in the grand scheme of things, one exam won’t hurt you, but prolonged stress certainly will leave a lasting effect on both your mental and physical health. 

BRIDGET YU is a College junior from Los Angeles, CA studying Psychology. She plans to attend medical school and specialize in psychiatry. Her email address is bridgtyu@sas.upenn.edu.

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