Overwhelmed by College?

mental health matters, what to do when you're overwhelmed by college
person looking out over the lake

When You’re Feeling Overwhelmed by College

It’s no secret that college can be hard. Students sacrifice their free time to study, attend lectures, and write essays. They’ll spend hours each day on work that can impact their future. Meanwhile, they’re expected to plan their life, often before the age of 21. Indeed, what college major they choose affects their job options for years to come. As a result, many students go through a period where they feel overwhelmed by college.

Usually, the feeling fades after a week or two. Students get past midterms, the big essay, and finals and can relax. Alternatively, they were dealing with something in their personal lives like work, family, or an illness, and it resolves.

Regardless, students who feel overwhelmed by college often need a little bit of help to get through it. Maybe they could use encouraging words from family or friends or an extension from a professor. Or there may be something larger at play. Unfortunately, not every problem resolves in just a few days. Mental health struggles and major life events can have long-lasting effects. In that case, it’s still possible to achieve educational goals. But they may need to plan out a schedule that fits their needs or seek additional support.

Steps to Take if You’re Overwhelmed by College

When you’re feeling overwhelmed by college, there are several ways to improve your mental health and ease those feelings. Not everything works the same from person to person. Consider self-care. Notably, some feel relaxed when exercising, while others enjoy a calm, quiet night. But if your go-to method isn’t working, it’s good to try new things.

The same can be said for resolving those larger-scale problems. Some people can resolve their feelings by reevaluating and re-engaging with their goals. They need to regain that internal motivation that led them to take on a degree or certificate. On the other hand, others may need a break to cool off, refresh, and prepare for the next part of their journey. Both options are equally effective depending on the individual, their struggles, and where they are in their journey.

For example, someone who cannot stand their job or field will probably want to double down on their education, not pull away. Taking a break from school and immersing themselves in work may negatively affect their morale and motivation.

Ultimately, if you’re feeling overwhelmed by college, you should try the following steps to relax and reconnect with your studies.

overwhelmed by college, remember every day is a fresh start

Recognize There is a Problem

Not everyone realizes when they hit a wall. Anyone can adapt to the feelings of stress and anxiety and continue pushing themselves. Notably, doing so can hurt their body and mind in unexpected ways. Long-term stress can increase blood pressure, cause weight fluctuations, and encourage unhealthy habits like addiction, gambling, and dietary. It can also have long-lasting effects on mental health. Indeed, burnout can take years to recover from.

Thus, it’s vital to recognize the signs that you feel overwhelmed by college. If you’re reading this article, you may already know that you’re stressed. Do you see yourself taking on unhealthy habits, like skipping meals, losing sleep, or overeating? Are you constantly on edge, feeling frustrated by little things? Often, students will push deadlines, skip lectures, and miss assignments entirely. Additionally, stressed people sometimes overreact to situations. They may push friends and family away to focus on work and school.

It isn’t always easy to recognize when you reach that point. If you notice that you aren’t feeling like yourself, it’s time to figure out what’s causing the problem.

Figure Out What the Problem Is

When you’re overwhelmed by college, it can be easy to simplify the problem. You realize that you’re struggling and know that school takes up much of your time. Thus, you decide college itself is the problem. It’s often not as simple as that.

If you’re in your first semester, it may be a matter of getting used to being in school. Indeed, whether you just graduated high school or are a returning student, college is a huge change. If you’re in the middle of the semester, could it be the coursework causing the stress? Midterms often bring more assignments, lengthy essays, and big exams. Alternatively, the content itself may be difficult to understand. Some courses will simply be hard to get through. Some people are strong in math but weak in writing. Thus, an essay-heavy class could give them a lot of trouble.

Finally, you may need a break if you’re in the middle of your degree. Many students choose to enroll in spring, summer, and fall semesters. As a result, they attend college all year round, with just a few holiday breaks. This planning gets you out of school sooner but can also burn you out quickly.

College may be a secondary issue if you’re going through a lot in your personal life or dealing with a major life event. Notably, classes take up a lot of time. When dealing with the birth of a child, wedding planning, or just normal day-to-day responsibilities, it can feel impossible to find time to breathe.

Knowing precisely what’s causing your stress can help you resolve it. Otherwise, you’re left wandering through the dark looking for solutions.

relaxing tea when you're overwhelmed by college

Engage in Self-Care

Sometimes, the best way to handle feeling overwhelmed by college is to take a day for yourself. Don’t be afraid to take a mental health day when needed. You can use this time away from your lecture to take care of yourself or be productive.

Indeed, self-care looks different for everyone. Maybe you want to grab your favorite drink, fill the bathtub, and relax for the evening. Or perhaps you’re an extrovert and need to go out with friends for an evening of fun. We all need days off from time to time. In fact, it’s vital for success, motivation, and quality work. You don’t get time to recharge when you’re constantly going, dealing with responsibilities, and working. Your work suffers as a result. And as we mentioned, this type of work has negative and dangerous impacts on the body and mind.

If you can’t take a full day, you can pair up work and fun by scheduling that relaxation time. For example, you can set up an hourly work schedule with planned breaks. You would be surprised how much you can get done in thirty to sixty minutes. So, do some work on your essay or study, then do something fun or relax when the alarm goes off. After an hour of rest, you can start on the work again. Also, choose a time for a hard stop on all work. Only fun, rest, and relaxation may be allowed after seven or eight. Watch a movie with your kids, make your favorite meal, or take some time to work on your hobbies.

Ultimately, an important part of being productive and responsible is self-care. You can’t pour from an empty cup.

Make a List of What Needs Done

Another tip for managing stress is to list what needs to be done. Notably, life can feel more chaotic when you have everything swarming in your head. You may lose track of important assignments, confuse deadlines, or overwhelm yourself with obsessive thoughts. Creating a concrete schedule can help alleviate that stress.

Indeed, when you’re feeling overwhelmed by college, creating a list of upcoming assignments and deadlines can make you feel more organized and on top of things. It will also help you figure out when you need to complete certain tasks. On your phone, computer, or a sheet of paper, make a list of your courses and what you need to do for the next three or four weeks. If you look every week, you may not leave enough time for important essays or studying. Then, using your list, create your schedule.

Find time every day to get something done. Maybe you can listen to a lecture or audiobook during your commute or do some reading while waiting at the bus stop for your child. Perhaps you can start an outline for your essay during your lunch break. By breaking assignments into smaller chunks, you won’t feel as overwhelmed when the due date rolls around. Also, it allows you to see when you’re free for self-care, fun, and breaks.

Walking through the forest

Tackle That List

Of course, making a schedule won’t help unless you follow it. If you run into hiccups early on, such as realizing you don’t remember information as well from audiobooks or you need your lunch break actually to relax, switch things up.

Additionally, it’s good to have some accountability. Share your plan with friends or family members, or even someone at the university. Many schools today have success coaches or advisors. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by college, you should utilize these resources. Success coaches may be able to follow up with you and see how your schedule is going. Like going to the gym, having someone to hold you to your plan helps you stick to it.

Ask for Help

At some point, we all need help. Maybe it’s the success coach or your professor. They can keep you accountable, help you with content, and grant you extensions. These professionals want to see you succeed and will try their best to give you reasonable accommodations. Other times, it’s a friend, family member, or peer. These individuals can encourage you, help talk you through difficult concepts or times, and make sure you take breaks. A strong support system can be enough to get you to your end goals. But some of us will need more.

Indeed, college mental health has been a big topic for years. Many students report high degrees of stress, anxiety, depression, and other struggles during enrollment. As a result, universities have hired counselors, started support groups, and maintained resources.

Ultimately, if you’re feeling overwhelmed by college, you should let someone in your support network know. An open ear can be enough to help us get by, or they may be able to offer advice or resources you can use. Notably, asking for help is difficult for many people. But you should never feel ashamed. College can be hard regardless of age, education and work background, family life, and other factors. Don’t be afraid to self-advocate if you need to talk to someone or ask for help. After all, you’re here to reach a goal. Make sure you use all resources available to achieve it.

balancing, mediation, self care when you're overwhelmed by college

Lessen Your Workload

Sometimes, we overload ourselves. We look at that enrollment form and think we can handle five or six courses instead of the usual four. Maybe it’s true at the start, but something comes up. One of the classes is a lot harder than expected, or you take on more hours at work.

Part of goal setting is creating realistic and obtainable goals. Many students strive to graduate early to get started in their careers or get that promotion. But there’s a good reason universities often have students fill out overload forms if they take more than twelve to fifteen credit hours: it’s not realistic for most people.

Indeed, students who take more classes than they can handle end up with lower grades. They don’t have time to create quality work or study for all of their exams. In some cases, this means needing to retake one or more classes. In turn, they actually graduate later than expected and with more debt. It’s truly important to recognize the risks of overloading your schedule. The free time you have at the beginning of the semester may disappear six or eight weeks in. Colleges have a time limit on refunds and drop-outs, so it may be too late by the time you realize you can’t handle the course load.

Of course, if you recognize that you took on too much, don’t spend too long deciding if you should drop a class. It’s a difficult decision, especially if you put a lot of work in at the start. But sometimes, it can be the factor that allows you to pass your other classes. When you’re feeling overwhelmed by college, a lightened workload can make all the difference

Take a Semester Off

So, what about the cases where too much is going on? Your work schedule is too chaotic, your babysitter quit, and you barely made it through your last semester. As a result, you’re dreading your next set of courses. But dropping out of college isn’t an option as you still want that degree. What then?

Thankfully, you have options. Namely, you can take time off from studying. This option will push your timeline back but later is better than never. Remember, if you take on more than you can handle, there’s a chance it’ll take you longer to finish anyway. Most colleges will allow you to take a semester off or go on a leave of absence. Notably, summer courses are more often treated as optional. This semester is usually shorter, with smaller class sizes due to lower enrollment rates and the shortened time period. Thus, taking summer off is a great choice for many.

Alternatively, the leave of absence option allows students to take up to a year off from their studies without worrying about getting dropped from the program. This option is usually more formal; you may need to submit a form to student services to start your leave.

While it can be difficult to admit you need that time off, you can return a semester or two later, refreshed and ready for your studies. During your break, you can still read up on relative subjects, pursue internships or job opportunities, and re-immerse yourself in your passion. You may even discover that the reason you felt so overwhelmed by college is that it wasn’t the right path for you.

Indeed, most college students change their major at least once. If you find yourself hating every part of your studies, there may be a reason. A leave of absence can help you discover what’s wrong.

origami, hobbies when you're overwhelmed by college

Final Thoughts

If you’re overwhelmed by college, you should know you’re not alone. Going to school is a big responsibility. Both new and returning students experience culture shock as they get used to the routine and classes.

Make sure you take care of yourself and your mental health as you begin or resume your educational career.

Lakewood University is an accredited online school that offers a variety of degree and certificate programs. We have rolling enrollments and asynchronous courses. In other words, you don’t have to worry about missing a lecture or running late to class. If you plan on enrolling in college while working, Lakewood University offers the flexibility you need to earn your degree.

Don’t hesitate – reach out to our admissions department today to learn more!