Academic/High Achieving Burnout and Adolescents

by | Perinatal/Postpartum & Parenting Concerns

Teens experience great pressure to get the best grades and participate in multiple extracurriculars in order to get into the best universities. However, many well-meaning grownups drive the adolescents in their lives past the point of high-achievement and into a danger zone of pressure. Here is how to identify burnout and how to treat it:

What is High Achieving Burnout?

High achieving burnout refers to a lifestyle of chronic stress, high demands, and mental and emotional exhaustion applied exclusively to high-achieving adolescents. However, it is most commonly seen with teens who have above-average academic abilities.

Sometimes adolescents have had the experience of being identified as a Gifted child in the elementary years. Gifted children tend to be identified early and are set on a path apart from their peers. They’re given accelerated task work, higher expectations, and learn, either subconsciously or consciously, that their worth is tied to their advanced output. Because some of this early task work comes easy to these children, they may not know how to study, learn, or have a growth mindset when setbacks occur. In older children, there may be a “dropoff point” where the expected level of skill no longer comes to the child easily, which can lead to frustration, anger, resistance to participate, or even, an identity crisis. If a child does not have healthy coping mechanisms or an effective support system, the child may scramble to regain a sense of security.

Gifted children are identified early through literacy and numeracy tests, along with teacher observation

Parents and teachers can also contribute to a teen’s burnout by being excessively strict, rigid, and cold. Alternatively, they may perpetuate the teen’s distress when they dismiss a teen’s concerns by relating it to their proficiency in academics. For example, if an adolescent talks about feeling lonely or struggling with a certain topic, adults may shrug and tell the teenager that if they’re smart enough to get straight-As, they’re probably smart enough to figure out other problems on their own. 

Caregivers should be mindful of the symptoms of academic burnout, as they can escalate into significant mental health disorders, including anxiety and depression, along with eating disorders and self-harm. Parents should ensure their teenagers have healthy, non-judged outlets for frustration and coping.

Symptoms of Academic/High Achieving Burnout:

●      Loss of interest in school, hobbies, and friendships

●      Physical symptoms without illness (including weight changes, stomach aches, headaches, fatigue)

●      Panic attacks and persistent anxiety

●      Sleep issues

●      Fears of the future, especially how short-term actions will affect the long-term

●      Obsessiveness and overthinking

●      Increased frustration or irritability

How to Treat Academic/High Achieving Burnout

Teens are still teens. They haven’t figured everything out yet. A powerful way to help your teen overcome burnout is to loosen the reins on them. Let them explore creatively and embrace healthy failure. Adolescents thrive under less pressure. You can maintain boundaries and standards for them, but allowing the nuances of emotions and efforts to come through will help tremendously. Your teen may also benefit from professional support to help navigate the internal dialogues that keep them in a high-stress state even without stressors around.

If you think your teen is experiencing academic/high achieving burnout or you have experienced high achieving burnout in your past, we can help. At Valued Living Therapy, we offer in-person therapy sessions in the Twin Cities area and via telehealth throughout Minnesota. We are inclusive of all relationships, sexual orientations, and identities, and passionate about helping you make lasting change to live your best life.

Valued Living Therapy

We are a dynamic, trauma-informed, multi-specialty group practice of mental health professionals offering therapy in the heart of Edina, MN and online throughout Minnesota.

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