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‘I think both me and the students were running out of steam’: Burnout felt across campus

After two and a half semesters of college via computer screen, some students are feeling the weight of the last year in the final stretch of this spring semester.

Micaela Anders, a sophomore political science and history double major, said she feels burnt out at this point in the semester.

“It’s a lot harder to wake up every day and do my homework,” Anders said. “I’m just kind of chugging through, [and I] drink a lot of caffeine.”

Anders said the university’s decision to remove spring break contributed to her fatigue, and the replacement of the break with wellness days did not help.

“I still feel like I did more work, [and] I feel like I spent the whole [wellness] day using it as a day to catch up or get ahead on assignments,” Anders said. “I think having a spring break would have been really helpful, especially since we’ve been, what feels like, non stop online for over a year now.”

Jason Abbitt, associate professor of educational psychology, said normally, spring break allows faculty to regroup and get ready for the final push toward the end of the semester, but with wellness days it’s difficult for him to step away from work.

“I have not noticed a wellness day [that] felt like a day where I could fully disengage from things because it's just a day and it happens in the middle of the week, and I'm not used to taking days off in the middle of the week,” Abbitt said.

Ronald Becker, a professor in the department of media, journalism and film, gave his larger classes an extra day off from their synchronous Zoom meetings.

“For me, my energy was lagging as the semester was dragging on,” Becker said. “The amount of energy you have to bring to a Zoom meeting is very different [from] in-person, where, when you’re in-person, you gain some energy from the classroom. I think both me and the students were running out of steam.”

Becker said the accumulation of the year has drained everyone.

“It’s a year of this stress, just being [and] living in a pandemic, trying to operate around with masks and social distancing, it’s just sort of micro-stress every day,” Becker said. “So having a year of that was tough, and I think that just takes its toll.”

Keith Hohn, professor of engineering, said one of the biggest challenges about working during COVID-19 has been missing out on in-person conversations and building relationships with students.

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“I think we're missing a lot of the things that we like about being faculty,” Hohn said. “Working with students closely, seeing them in person, having those conversations. We just don't have those. So that's a challenge. And I think it was just the workload has gone up for everybody, everything becomes harder, just because now you're having to deal with the online environments.”

John Ward, director of Student Counseling Service (SCS), said this part of the semester is traditionally most stressful for students and staff, but also noted the added stress of the pandemic and recent social and cultural events in the country.

“I think all these things are sort of weighing on our minds, collectively, and we haven't had a reprieve, we haven’t had a break in all this,” Ward said. “I think that’s what's contributing to so many people saying, ‘I’m tired. I’m just burnt out right now.’”

Melanie Uy, a psychologist at SCS, said she has heard concerns from students about feeling like they have not had a break this semester.

“I think the semester wellness days are great,” Uy said. “I love the idea behind it, [but] it is tough when you just don’t have that week off. It feels very different for us this semester and I’ve had a lot of people share [that] it's just like, ‘Wow, did I actually have time off or not?’ And that’s just piling, I think.”

Claire Schoenfeld, a sophomore professional writing and media and culture double major, said she feels like her professors are assigning more work to make up for less class time. 

“I feel like the workload, at least mine, has dramatically increased this year from last year,” Schoenfeld said. “So I feel like some of the professors just kind of need to ease up and understand that more work isn't necessarily equal to learning more.”

Schoenfeld said another online semester along with the loss of spring break has contributed to her semester exhaustion.

“It's difficult to be online all day staring at a computer and doing the same thing over and over again,” Schoenfeld said. “I think a spring break would have been beneficial, especially at this point in the semester, I could definitely use a break. But I honestly don't dislike the wellness days that much, I kind of appreciate them. But spring break would have still been better.”

Ward said one of the things he advises students to do to combat semester fatigue is to do work in advance.

“There is the reality that things are just going to be stressful because things are due,” Ward said, “and there's not a great way around that level of stress. That's just the reality of being a college student, but sometimes that can be eased if things aren't done last minute, and one is taking time [to] work on things and give them time and not just let that pressure build.”

Uy said she reminds students that structure and routine is important, but said remembering to take a minute to breathe helps too.

“Overall I tell people to take a breath for a moment,” Uy said. “Take a few, if possible. Make them deep, and you can open your eyes and see, it's like, ‘Okay, now I’m coming back with a little bit de-stress or a little bit of a clear mind’ and not as frantic or chaotic a feeling. Simple, but we do forget about it.”

Anders said she is excited for the fall semester because she hopes it will look different than the last three.

“I just felt like I was more energized to do [things] throughout the day [before the pandemic],” Anders said.  “On top of going to classes and club meetings and hanging out with friends in person and all of that I think it [was] a lot easier to do college when you weren't just sitting at your laptop all day.”