Students’ coping has its limits
Do you always wake up tired when your alarm goes off? Are you considering dropping out of the University?
I asked some friends in different fields of study for their thoughts on burnout among students, and their answers were perhaps even surprisingly similar. The pressure to work alongside studies emerged as one connecting factor. The future looks more uncertain than before due to the coronavirus pandemic. This uncertainty practically forces students to work during their studies to ensure that they can continue to compete for jobs. Feelings of insufficiency and inferiority also emerged. Why can I not cope even though my friends are doing fine? Do I need to complete my studies at target pace with an average of five while also working to acquire work experience? Is networking and constantly generating a lot of buzz necessary to ensure that someone will hire me after I graduate? And while doing all this, you should also be taking care of yourself and your social life – but with what energy?
For many freshers, moving into their own place and becoming independent takes some getting used to, and the pandemic has hardly made this any easier. After all, at the beginning of your studies you are only practicing study techniques to find the ones that suit you. During the remote era, courses may already have more independent assignments than before, and it may be hard to complete them without help and peer support from your fellow students.
Allocating certain days or times of day for studying was already difficult before the coronavirus, and setting up boundaries between studies and personal life by only studying on campuses or in the library is not currently even theoretically possible. It is hard to know whether you are studying enough, too much or too little when you cannot chat with friends on the same course spontaneously in the same way as before. Your sense of time and moderation are thus suffering as you are sitting home alone in front of your laptop from day to day, week to week and month to month.
Many students are also burdened with worries about their subsistence over this and last summer – that is, whether they can get a summer job or not. They might not have any courses that can be included in their degrees available in the summer, and due to the coronavirus, jobs are very hard to find, especially in the service sector. Summer jobs often make up a large part of students’ yearly income, and it is not really possible to save for the summer from the student aid received during the academic year. In specialist fields, responsibility for the health of other people or animals, of life and death, naturally increases stress and the pressure to do everything right and succeed. You should not be absent from patient work even because of quarantine, as certain things simply must be done and learned before graduation.
In addition to all of the above, studying on specialist fields may be fairly school-like or have lots of mandatory attendance on courses, even without the coronavirus. Mandatory internships that are part of the degree require students to have passed certain courses, which puts them under significant pressure. If you cannot start your internship in time, your graduation may be delayed, too. This, in turn, may cause problems with subsistence in the form of running out of months of student aid or exceeding the target time to qualify for the student loan compensation, for instance.
According to my degree timetable, I should have completed 73 credits in one academic year during my first year of study. Theoretically, 73 credits correspond to 1,971 hours. When this number of hours is distributed over a period from September to May, you get 7 hours and 18 minutes of studying for every single day, including all weekends, Christmas, New Year, Easter, May Day, and so on. This kind of endless studying is obviously not healthy, and I certainly could not have kept it up on top of occasional work shifts. Why, then, did I spend half a year stressing whether I would pass one extremely important exam or feel guilty about having to prioritise which of several interesting courses to focus on and having my grades reflect all this?
Students are a part of the workforce as well as net taxpayers – if not during their studies, then usually after graduation. What happens if we already burn out during our studies or hit a wall right after entering working life? What kind of a society are we if we let one of our greatest resources run out during studies? Structures that contribute to burnout spread from studies to working life and probably back again.
Culture changes over time, but it is up to our entire society whether the change is for the better or worse. We should ensure that students are provided with subsistence that covers the basic needs in life throughout the year, secure the funding of universities and thus ensure a sufficient number of teaching personnel and the availability of support services as well as avoid too much overlap in courses. Together, we can also distribute responsibility more evenly to a larger number of people both at work and in leisure time (duties in organisations, for instance) as well as discuss matters and ask for help before the situation becomes unbearable. No one is left alone, even though it may sometimes feel like it!
https://www.mielenterveystalo.fi/aikuiset/itsehoito-ja-oppaat/itsehoito/uupumuksen_omahoito (unfortunately only in Finnish)
https://www.terveyskirjasto.fi/dlk00681 Burnout (unfortunately only in Finnish)
https://www.nyyti.fi/opiskelijoille/opi-elamantaitoa/uupumus/ (unfortunately only in Finnish)