My experience with burnout at Lancaster University

You’ll probably suffer from burnout at some point at university but you’re not alone

TW: Mention of anxiety, burnout

Around this time last year, I broke down on the floor of my first-year uni room, crying into my carpet. I was on the verge of burnout, convinced all my friends hated me, feeling like I’d never belong.

Luckily, I didn’t completely burn out in my first year and I feel a lot better about myself now, but as deadline season and exams loom once again, I just feel utterly exhausted. I’m a burnt-out “gifted kid” with imposter syndrome and social anxiety, disillusioned with my university experience.

Burnout syndrome: the basics

As students, we’re used to feeling stressed, and burnout occurs through this constant stress and can lead to a lack of motivation. For years, I put my academic achievements above my mental health because getting high grades made me feel so good about myself.  Then I came to Lancaster, and my perfectionism meant that anything less than an A felt like a failure. If I’m being honest, it still does. After all, if I’m not the best student, then what else is good about me?

We’re told that university is some of the best years of our lives, and it’s great because we’re finally studying a subject we love. But burnout has made me hate the subject I once loved because I’m constantly thinking about the next deadline and feeling like I’m barely keeping my head above water. I know I’m not the only student who experiences this, but it’s still so easy to feel alone. It feels like everyone else is doing so much better than you, but I promise we’re all just faking it til we make it.

Imposter syndrome

Sometimes it feels like I can never win. My brain tells me I need to achieve highly to be worthy of praise, but then if I do well, then they must’ve made a mistake. I’m nothing special and I don’t deserve any of the achievements or praise I’m given. Hell, even as I write this piece I’m convinced it’s not good enough and I don’t deserve to write for The Tab. Once you start listening to that part of your brain, you start to believe it, and that’s what happened to me.

You are so much more than your grades

Flash forward a year and I’m no longer having breakdowns into my carpet. Yes, I’m incredibly burnt out and dreading the thought of dragging myself through uni for another year. I still feel like I’m drowning, and I still get disappointed when I don’t get the grade I want (even if it’s a great grade), but I know there is so much more to who I am than my academic achievements.

In Michaelmas term, my stepdad died. Yet, I still beat myself up for the grades I got that term because they weren’t what they should’ve been according to my perfectionist, overachieving brain. But, I pulled myself through grief and proved to myself I’m really bloody strong. That’s an achievement far greater than any grade I’ve ever received, and I think it’s a testament to who I am.

My academic achievements are just a small part of who I am. I’m funny, I love my friends a lot, I never shut up about being gay, and I’d like to think I’m a good cook. I’d love to do well in my degree, but if I don’t, it doesn’t define me. And I promise it doesn’t define you too.

Tips to help you through

I’m in no way an expert on how to deal with burnout, anxiety or imposter syndrome. But I know what it feels like and I know how I attempt to deal with it. Maybe it’ll help you too.

Talk to your friends

Talking about my perfectionism with my friends really made me feel less alone. There are so many ex-gifted kids in Lancaster, and I promise, at least one of your friends is probably one of them too. You don’t need to feel so alone in your exhaustion, or when you’re disappointed with a grade. It’s so normal, especially when we’re made to feel like we should still be achieving As and A*s like at A-Level, when let’s face it, uni is hard and that’s near impossible.

Please, take breaks

If you’re like me, then you probably ignore everyone telling you to take a break. They don’t know what it’s like to be you, to feel the pressure to achieve like you. Sorry to tell you, but they’re right.

Go, have a walk around campus, dance in the kitchen, or spend the night playing Mario Kart with your friends. You’ll feel so much better for the break, and it’ll reduce your chances of burning out. I wish I could scream at first-year Hannah to not worry so much, enjoy it and have fun because maybe I wouldn’t feel so exhausted now.


I went to therapy this year for my social anxiety. It was a six-month waiting list, and it was scary, but I’m so glad I did it. I went from gaslighting myself into believing I didn’t suffer from anxiety, only to work through my social anxiety and touch on issues like my self-esteem. Therapy is kind of great, so if it’s accessible to you, then it gets a five-star recommendation from me.


Every day, I try to tell myself I’m proud of three things I’ve done. They don’t have to be big things, it could just be something like cooking dinner, or having a shower. It makes me feel so much better and like I’ve achieved something that day. It’s really helped me reduce the weight I put on my grades.

University is hard, and it’s normal to struggle. Burnout is a bitch, and it often comes alongside so many other issues. If someone hasn’t told you today, then just know I’m really proud of you.

If you or someone you know has been affected by this story, please speak to someone or contact Samaritans on 116 123 at any time. You can also contact Anxiety UK on 03444 775 774, Mind on 0300 123 3393, Calm (Campaign Against Living Miserably) on 0800 58 58 58, and Student Minds online here. You matter.

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