by Ann Siock | Staff Writer

SCRANTON – Between mandatory coronavirus tests and changing class formats, COVID-19 concerns have commanded the university’s attention this fall, but students have an alternative threat to worry about… burnout.

While individuals are prone to experiencing burnout differently, Mary L. Troy, Ph.D., assistant professor in the counseling and human services department at the Panuska College of Professional Studies (PCPS), said there are certain symptoms that are overarching in most cases.

“If you’re tired all the time and you slept 12 hours the night before, that could be a sign,” Troy said. “Another sign might be you’re having trouble really having any motivation to start your assignments even though you know you really need to get them done or you’re having trouble getting to class particularly now, we have something we call Zoom fatigue.”

Zoom fatigue has been quite a hot button issue, with the Harvard Business Review, TED, National Geographic and the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) all having done a report focusing on the anomaly in the past eight months.

These articles tend to center around the amount of excess work the brain has to do in searching for the nonverbal nuances of person-to-person communication that are not adequately conveyed over a video call, which makes the brain work harder to try to recognize nonverbal cues over a screen, resulting in fatigue.

Another side to online work causing an increase in fatigue that is not related directly to video calling is eye strain, which Troy said can result in a drained feeling even in the absence of a video call because the blue light reaching our eyes stimulates the neurons in our brains, making it difficult to fall asleep.

“Unplugging, reading a book — not a book that’s on a Kindle — talking with somebody, even if you’re calling someone versus doing face time if you have a roommate or housemates or apartment mates get together and play a board game, play cards just to let you get a break from technology and let your brain rest some from that,” Troy said.

Another counseling professor in PCPS, Sonja K. Lund, Ph. D., reiterated the importance of taking time away from the screen and placed importance on spending some time outdoors each day.

“A lot of us are online so frequently that we aren’t taking the time to go outside in nature, and we know that vitamin D, which comes from the sun, does impact your mood quite a bit,” Lund said. “I think these things are contributing factors to burn out and are making it particularly difficult right now.”

For students who believe they may be nearing the point of a burnout or are struggling to come back from a burnout, it is important to reach out to someone, such as a friend or family member or a licensed mental health professional. The University also has a counseling center that students can use as a resource in such situations, according to Lund.

“I always tell my students, you are never going to find another opportunity where you’re going to get counseling for free. Take advantage of it while you are a student. Definitely reach out to somebody if you are in a place where things are just beyond not good,” Lund said.

Lund also said that there are certain things students can do to start the recovery process on their own. This begins by scheduling time for themselves and possibly using a counseling strategy that has them look at five life tasks, spirituality or sense of wholeness, self-direction, work and leisure, friendship and love.

“I would say those five areas, on a scale of one to 10, rate yourself in those life tasks. Then after you’ve done that, figure out how you can raise your scores in certain areas and start on those first,” Lund said.

This exercise can help students see which areas of their lives they may be neglecting and provides them an opportunity to correct it.

According to Lund, another important thing for students to remember is to be kinder to themselves.

“Be gentle with yourself throughout the process. It’s okay if you feel like you can’t do everything and people are asking too much of you,” Lund said. “There are times in life where it’s just almost impossible to do everything. I would say cut yourself some slack in those instances – take the L so to speak – and figure out how you’re going to move on from those things.”