Surviving Zoom University burnout


 I wake up on my fourth alarm. The class starts in five minutes. I remember waking up late my first year, how the adrenaline powered my bike up the hill from South Campus, the sun on my neck, Joanne told me to hold on a minute, how my anxiety subsided as friends smiled and shouted “Smoot!” as I wove through the Pit. 

A few weeks into this semester, I log in to Zoom, my camera off, my blanket on, my curtains blocking the sun so the screen doesn’t glare. For a moment, I try to focus on the lecture as the professor’s voice lags on my overcrowded WiFi. It’s not long until my attention deficit finds rescue in my Twitter feed of 280 characters. 

Honestly, I’m exhausted. It’s tough finding purpose and discipline these days, lacking any structure beyond a rectangular screen. 

It’s easy to deflect my burnout on the University, which still refuses to give students a fall break or the standard reading days before exams. But the reality is, I’ll grow old waiting on the administration to make the right decision, and I’ll waste this last year of college if I don’t start making the right decisions for myself.

Here’s how I’m trying to survive Zoom burnout. These are easy to write but honestly difficult to establish long-term habits. Do what you can to build a healthier, energetic routine, and don’t worry about being perfect. We’re all going through this together, so never be afraid to reach out to friends, family, or mental health professionals for support.

Turn off your camera (or change your Zoom settings)

Look, I don’t think I’m that attractive or anything, but I just physically could not resist looking at myself on Zoom every 10 seconds. I’d briefly zone out in my reflection, adjusting my expression to appear engaged while I’m actually missing something important. And when I miss something, I miss it — there’s no longer anyone I can nudge and whisper, “Hey man, do you know what’s going on?” The quick fix is to change your Zoom settings to hide your video from yourself. I realized my expression doesn’t matter as much when everyone else is busy staring blankly at their own reflections. 

Setting a schedule guided by your intentions

You probably already have each of your assignments in your planner or Google Calendar, but go beyond this to add structure and keep yourself accountable. Lean into what energizes you — put in the time to work out, to eat, to meditate, to do any action of self-love that makes you happy. Schedule time to drive on backroads bumping some Gucci Mane or Taylor Swift. Schedules are tough to stick to, I’ll admit, but it’s easier to be disciplined if you write out and understand your intentions for the day. I focus on what I’m trying to accomplish by finishing a midterm essay or writing this column, and I let those deeper motivations drive how I allocate my time.

Replace social media with phone calls and nature

This is the toughest. You don’t want to disconnect and self-ostracize yourself from social media, I get it. I’m still trying to give up Twitter. But one of my worst habits was making social media a bedtime and morning routine. I’d waste sleep and sunny mornings by aimless scrolling, seeing and reading about the lives of other people, and curating some false images of my own. Set limits for yourself on social media, or delete it for a few weeks. Go for a walk every morning, whether on a forest trail or into Carrboro and call someone you love. Nature is so much more beautiful and grounding than pixels or selfies.

Embrace Pass/Fail

Don’t get me wrong. If a class fascinates you, dive into that material and make a high A. But if the lectures and readings painfully bore you, don’t waste stress going above and beyond right now. Graduate schools won’t knock you for pass/failing in a pandemic, and you’ll grow more passion and knowledge by focusing on what truly piques your interest.