Campus News

Students battle burnout during remote learning

Despite rising reports of worsening mental health among young adults, Counseling and Psychological Services has experienced a dip in demand. | Juana Garcia/The Cougar

Despite rising reports of worsening mental health among young adults, Counseling and Psychological Services has experienced a dip in demand. | Juana Garcia/The Cougar

Students juggle a variety of different responsibilities: a full course load, extracurriculars, internships, a social life. 

May Huyhn is no different. The English and political science senior balances academic demands with personal and professional obligations. She also grapples with a lack of motivation for her online courses, caused in part by a chronically heavy load of overall responsibilities. 

“I’ve definitely been feeling unmotivated in my online classes,” Huyhn said. “Work, family, friends and other obligations aren’t helping at all.” 

Huyhn isn’t alone in experiencing reduced motivation for remote learning. A survey from the Student Experience in the Research University found that 76 percent of all undergraduates reported a lack of motivation as the primary obstacle to learning in online courses. 

Sociology sophomore Sam Kuo remarks that his motivation has dropped significantly from when all of his classes were offered face-to-face, despite the course load remaining comparable to previous semesters.

“My workload is about the same as other semesters. It may feel like more and I don’t think professors know how little bandwidth students have for online assignments,” Kuo said. “I find myself having to force myself to go to class, or do readings or assignments. It impacts my overall quality of life, having to drag my feet through it all.”

A lack of motivation toward academic endeavors is one of the hallmarks of academic burnout, which entails a dive in productivity stemming from an overly stressful workload combined with a lack of social support and adequate reward. 

Outside of academic stress, Huyhn remarks that broader social and political issues also contribute to feelings of concern and hindered motivation.

“There are so many looming forces that we know are uncontrollable like (COVID-19) and the … elections, and our very individualistic culture that has become toxic during these times,” Huyhn said. 

Stress related to the coronavirus, healthcare and the presidential election, among other factors, are raising stress levels among Generation Z.  In comparison to October 2019, 34 percent of Gen Z adults report experiencing worse mental health in 2020. 

While students nationwide have been experiencing increased rates of stress, fewer are accessing the counseling services available on their college campuses. 

At UH, the number of unique clients seen by Counseling and Psychological Services dropped by 22 percent from Fiscal Year 2019 to FY 2020, according to data provided by CAPS. 

The decline can be largely attributed to the presence of fewer students on campus, the suspension of group counseling and skills workshops, student discomfort with teletherapy, Zoom fatigue, the prioritization of other needs and state laws limiting teletherapy, said CAPS director Norma Ngo. 

Students can avoid burnout by making time for enjoyable activities and getting active. 

Huyhn says that she prevents burnout through a variety of restorative activities. 

“I deal with burnout by exercising, getting back into painting and cooking, playing with my dogs, praying or meditating and getting to know my loved ones on a deeper level … And getting plenty of sleep for once without feeling guilty about it,” Huyhn said. 

Kuo also attempts to make time for self care and activities he enjoys, but finds that they don’t necessarily mitigate his stress.

“I try to engage in hobbies, rely on peers for support, exercise and try my best to get a good night’s sleep,” Kuo said. “Those things do not get the work done, however, and fail to make me less overwhelmed.”

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