According to a study by the American Psychological Association published in 2014, more than one student out of two says that they feel anxious with regards to their studies, one out of three clearly indicates feeling depressed, and one out of ten admits having suicidal tendencies. This alarming observation reveals a public health problem that we can no longer ignore. A student suffering from stress is even more depressed and irritable, has difficulty concentrating and no longer enjoys their studies ! (Not to mention having problems sleeping and serious physical problems such as migraines, heart and digestive problems,..).

3 types of behaviors indicative of a danger of burnout can be observed. Firstly, divestment in student life : students at risk avoid participating in their school’s social life and rather have the tendency to seek to reduce socialization as much as they can and prefer to cut themselves off from the rest of the world until the next moment of respite, which is generally at the end of the academic year. Secondly, a student at risk no longer makes sharing his work with his peers a priority, in the sense that he places all his energy in the execution of his daily tasks, almost in survival mode. This is the harmful machine which lowers self-esteem and confidence in their chances of success. Finally, a student at risk has a strong feeling of powerlessness and a negative view of the world. In reality, he is sad and is in a state which can be classified as depressive .

So then, who are the students who are at risk and how can we help them ? How can preventative measures be put in place ?  What are the good practices that students can be inspired from to protect them from burnout ?  As teachers, how can we help our students to avoid this fearsome trap ?

For my part, I take the time to discuss stress with my students and I give them the following advice :

  • Plan your working time and, above all, have regular breaks, 10 minutes every 2 hours, a proper break at midday, in the evenings and one rest day a week. An overloaded brain can no longer function, and taking a small walk before going to bed can have a tremendous effect in improving sleep quality
  • Distance yourself from the situation that is stressing you out and ask yourself the following question : ‘what is the worst that could possibly happen to me in this situation ?’ This simple line of questioning often helps to de-dramatize the
  • Practice the stress reduction method which is based on full consciousness (mindfulness). This method of stress management, which was developed by John Kabat-Zihn (1998) is a combination of traditional Buddhist meditation and cognitive-behavioral therapy. The techniques of full consciousness enable one to learn how to reduce physical or emotional pain, anxiety and to improve quality of life and relationships. This is a powerful tool to change the relationship with one’s negative thoughts, and mental reflection. I really like doing some basic exercises in class to let my students experiment mindfulness.

I cannot help thinking of the teacher’s role and of the positive impact of caring towards students. Such a mindset does not mean diminishing academic requirements, it rather demonstrates respect and empathy. After all, is it not legitimate to create a caring and stimulating study environment in which students feel recognized and where the willingness to learn overwhelms the fear of failure ?

http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2014/stress-report.pdf

Dumont A, Rege-Collet N. (2014). Pedagogy of higher education : theoretical benchmarks and practical applications. Managing stress in an academic environment (Developing the role of the higher education teacher ed. Vol. 2). Switzerland: Peter Lang.