After 18 months of pandemic stress, students are beyond burnt out

Financial and academic challenges and last year's canceled breaks have made continuing school a struggle for some students over the past year

After 18 months of living through a deadly pandemic, dealing with online classes and experiencing financial troubles, some students are struggling to make it through the semester. 

All of this has only been made more difficult to handle without many breaks from school, work or life, especially for students working alongside their education. 

J.B. Barcenas, a junior majoring in professional flight, is one of those students. After taking extra classes, flight school and working up to 25 hours a week over the summer, he felt exhausted.

"Going into the fall I was completely burnt out," he said. "I couldn't seem to focus." 

Barcenas worked all summer and took 12 credits of summer courses, lacking any motivation to perform well in school after missing out on the one break he had, he said. 

"Mentally it was probably the worst time of my life," Barcenas said.

Students and young people across the country are experiencing similar feelings of stress due in part to the uncertainty and chaos of the past 18 months. 

According to an October 2020 report by the American Psychological Association, 87% of Generation Z adult college students reported school as a significant source of stress. 82% of those surveyed said uncertainty about the then-upcoming 2020-2021 school year was contributing to stress. For these ASU students, their experiences of the last year reflected those statistics.

Blake Matthews, a sophomore studying psychology and an advocacy coordinator for the organization Active Minds at ASU, said it's not unusual for ASU students to find it difficult to find helpful resources in these situations. 

Active Minds at ASU, a student-led organization, focuses on mental health awareness and providing support to struggling students through meetings and "weekly rants."

Matthews said there are a number of ways students can feel more in control of their situations, whether that is taking a lighter workload, reading a book or cooking a meal at home, all of which may help students feel less overwhelmed.

Also, finding a "habitual routine that can help you feel in control of that stress and know that (burnout) is temporary" can be helpful for students, Matthews said.

Some students also feel pressured to be the best at everything they do, but luckily school is not forever and goals can be changed, Matthews said.

"Goals can be reevaluated and they are not meant to be perfect," Matthews said.

There is no shame in taking a step back when someone is feeling overwhelmed and taking the time to prioritize themselves, he said.

In the 2020-21 school year, ASU students did not have a spring or fall break, both of which were canceled by the University due to COVID-19 concerns. This October's fall break is the first time ASU students have had a spring or fall break since the Spring 2020 semester.

Giavonna Sabatini, a sophomore studying biomedical engineering, worked three jobs and took an economics class during the summer, making her transition into the fall semester particularly difficult.

"All I wanted all summer was one night to myself," Sabatini said.

Sabatini eventually had to quit one of her three jobs over the summer. Her class became overwhelming with her 40 plus hours at work and she sometimes struggled to find time to sleep and even to eat a decent meal.

"There were nights I was contemplating if it was even worth it," Sabatini said.

Looking back at her summer now, Sabatini realized that not prioritizing her mental or physical health and not being able to visit her loved ones has made her fall semester harder to adjust to, she said.

Now she tried to be more in touch with what works and doesn't when it comes to preventing burnout. Her advice to other students is to not ignore their health because it can backfire.

"Just prioritize (your health) as much as you can, even if it seems like you can put it on the back burner, don't do it because it can hurt so much more in the long run," she said.

Editor’s note: For mental health services on campus, visit https://eoss.asu.edu/counseling. For immediate assistance, call 480-921-1006.


Reach the reporter at agonz295@asu.edu and follow @adriana_gc_ on Twitter.

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