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March 3, 2014 | by  | in Opinion |
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Being Well

Lectures. Tutorials. Course Outlines. Assignments. Exams. Work. Bills. Friends. Relationships. Homesickness. Whether you are a first-year, or a returning student, getting back into ‘uni mode’ can leave you feeling very overwhelmed.

Matt – a second-year student – told me a story most of us can relate to. He was intent on turning over a new leaf – “finally” he would be organised. Everything could be done – study notes, readings, assignments, and, finding time to enjoy university life. He had it all sorted out, and sat down at his desk to write up a plan. As soon as he was seated, Matt began to ponder all the other things he felt he needed to do. He realised that somehow he needed to fit in his various commitments – work, family, sport, friends – around his new “brilliant” study plan. Matt tried to figure out how to do this and froze, staring blankly at his desk. Then he went on Facebook for a couple of hours.

Matt’s withdrawal from an overwhelming situation is common to the human experience. There are only a certain number of things we can concentrate on at one time. When we have too many tasks – especially ones we deem of equal importance – our brain gets jammed. Think about trying to watch TV, cook, text, and talk to someone about something important. Telling yourself to “focus” won’t help, because you already have too much information to focus on. So, what can you do?

When feeling overwhelmed, it is of utmost importance to free up the ‘brain jam’. Stop, and take a few deep breaths. Only focus on the feeling of the air entering and leaving your lungs.

Once you have calmed down and cleared the blockage, remember that in reality, the feeling of busyness is really just completing one task after another. To reduce any emotional tension, my tip is to do a familiar, ‘easy’ task first. By doing so, you will help your mind to focus on one – not multiple – tasks. Once completed, you will be ready to focus on doing one harder task. It would also helpful to consider what tasks you could do with others to help lighten the load.

Finally, it is important to take action and be present; take one day at a time. Often, our situation becomes more overwhelming the longer time passes; hence, it is imperative to make plans on how we will accomplish various tasks. You’ll be surprised at how quickly your to-do list shortens when you focus your attention on one thing at a time!


Rachel Riedel

Wellbeing Educator

Student Counselling Service

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