Six Ways to Cope if You’re Feeling Overwhelmed in College

Six Ways to Cope if You’re Feeling Overwhelmed in College

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The changes that come with the transition to college life, especially during freshman year, affect everyone differently. Whether you’re taking 12 credit hours or 18, working 20 hours per week or not at all, you might end up feeling overwhelmed. You’re surrounded by unfamiliar faces, new places, and may be far from the comfort of home. Some homesickness and anxiety are normal, but if you feel debilitated and lacking in motivation, or if your grades start to slip and you find you can’t keep up, there may be a bigger problem at hand.

Fortunately, if you find yourself feeling overwhelmed in any way there are steps you can take to alleviate your stress. That said, if you are overwhelmed to the point that you have thoughts of suicide or self-harm, a mental health specialist can be reached at 1-800-273-TALK (8225) at any time.

Ways to Cope if You’re Feeling Overwhelmed:

1. Lean on others for support. Friends, family, and mental health specialists (counselors, therapists, clinical social workers, psychiatrists) are all great resources for you to turn to when you’re stressed. They can offer a listening ear, reassurance, and help you find solutions. When in the middle of a stressful event, we tend to forget that others don’t know what is going on in our head until we actually communicate with them. Once you confide, even if it’s hard to admit weakness, others are usually happy to help support you. If you choose to see a licensed professional, call your insurance company ahead of time to determine the cost to you.

2. Change your class load. Consider what exactly you’re struggling with. Are you overwhelmed with the amount of work in your classes? Is it your schedule that’s stressing you out? Did you sign up for a class that’s not appropriate for your academic level? If possible, make changes to your class load or schedule to reduce your stress; you can typically drop a class within the first couple weeks of the semester without losing any money or receiving a mark on your transcript. If it’s too far into the semester to make class changes without a negative mark on your record, consider your options carefully. Ask if you can take the class pass/fail and remember what class schedules work best for you for future semesters.

3. Use campus resources. If you’re struggling in a particular class, you may be eligible for free tutoring sessions (many colleges offer them). If one-on-one tutoring isn’t your thing, consider visiting the campus writing center or math center. Students (and sometimes professors) may be available to help you with essays and assignments. If it’s not any one class that’s got you down, many schools offer counseling and support services to help in situations that cause students to become wholly overwhelmed. If you’re not sure where to start, go to your campus’ health services location and let them know what you’re going through. You’re not the first (or last) student to ever feel this way.

4. Plan ahead. If you’re panicking about how you’ll get your assignments completed and make it to all of your commitments, it might help to write everything down. Yes, it feels like more work in the moment, but when you have a concrete list of your obligations, it’s easier to create a schedule that will help you get everything done on time—and you can prioritize what’s important. If half of your stress comes from the fact that you might not be able to finish an assignment and make it to an intramural soccer game, then you can make the choice to skip the game. Getting organized, making to-do lists, and creating schedules is only going to help you.

5. Take a break. Sometimes your brain just needs a break. You could take an hour to exercise, take a walk and enjoy nature, grab a cup of coffee with friends, take a nap, or zone out in front of Netflix. Anything you can do to refresh yourself, provided you get back to work afterwards, will help you cope with feelings of stress and anxiety. That said, it’s really easy to justify procrastination if you call it a brain break, so set a deadline on your relaxation time and get back to work as soon as you’re feeling better.

6. Transfer. Transferring should be a last resort, because it’s not easy, can result in lost credits (and therefore money), and can start the cycle over again (being in an unfamiliar place surrounded by unfamiliar people). That said, if you are completely miserable or really struggling with being away from your family, you could consider transferring to a school closer to your home or one that more closely matches your personality. Being in more familiar surroundings might be comforting. If you’re thinking about applying to other colleges, talk to an admissions representative at each of your prospective schools and your academic advisor at your current school right away to ensure that you transition as smoothly as possible.

About Hannah Holley

Hannah earned a BS in Psychology from the College of Charleston, and an MA in applied behavior analysis from Ball State University. She is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst and worked as a therapist for children with special needs for more than five years, but now spends most of her time keeping up with her own toddler. In between playing cars and picking up after her tiny human tornado, she loves to try new recipes, take photographs, and re-watch episodes of "Parks and Recreation" for the 10th time. Hannah lives in Charleston, SC.

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