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Self-sabotage: Why do students spread themselves so thin?

Help I’m drowning in a sea of responsibilities! Between work and school students find it difficult to balance their workload, relationships and mental health while still deeming themselves productive. l Illustration by Fiona Legesse/The Cougar

Many students are burning the candle at both ends to meet the demands of their responsibilities.

Mountains of homework, deadlines and debts pile up and swallow people whole. Despite this, students seem to compete with one another and compare who has more on their plate. Instead of pursuing their usual hobbies and recreational activities, many students find themselves in an unintentional contest of “I’m more tired because I did ____!”

Where did this trend come from, and why are we allowing our lives to be run by it? When did it become cool to be sleep deprived and overworked?


It’s unclear where student burnout came from, but a good place to start is the transition from a child to young adult. The change from high school to college is a big one, which can knock even the sturdiest of students off their feet. From moving out and leaving your parents’ home, to having to study full time with a job, it’s easy to get swept under the current.

Pursuing a degree can be difficult at times, and classes can be stressful for all majors. A ResearchGate study found that “stress has been shown to be correlated with college students’ health behaviors, anxiety concerning exams, self-esteem and coping strategies that students use.”


In an effort to keep themselves on at all times, students have taken to caffeine and nicotine. A study from the San Jose State University shows that “after the ingestion of 6g of caffeine, there was a clear tendency to report sleep as ‘less satisfying.’

The more coffee students drink to keep their energy up, the less satisfying their sleep will be. Bad sleep can have adverse effects on people of all ages. A lack of sleep can cause irritability, mood swings and stress. If it gets serious enough, sleep deprivation can occur.

Nicotine is also a widely-used coping mechanism. With the rise of e-vapes and Juuls, nicotine is more accessible than ever. A study by the Centers for Disease Control shows a “negative association between tobacco use and academic achievement.”

The use of caffeine or nicotine to combat burnout pushes students further into the burnout cycle, which is why finding healthier coping mechanisms is a surefire way to get better.


If you find yourself stuck in one of those one-upping loops, don’t fret. Getting help for yourself is as easy as talking to your friends.

If talking to your friends is not your desired route, reach out to a school therapist or designated mental health program. Trained professionals are available to help you and your friends get on the right path.  

Along with help from professionals, consider planning your days more thoroughly. Get a planner and start writing everything down. This is one way to make sure nothing slips your mind, especially if you get busy. If you give yourself set times for homework, exercise or errands, you’re more likely to hold yourself accountable if you go over time.

There are tons of ways to do this. If you want to go paperless, there are plenty of apps to help you keep your activities in order. Google Calendar, Timepage by Moleskine and Cal are a few examples of what’s out there.

Finding a solution that works for you will take rounds of trial and error, but if it means you won’t overwork or overextend yourself, I say do it.

Overextending yourself and burning out is not, and never will be, cool. Don’t let societal fads stop you from getting the sleep you deserve.

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