Maybe everything was sunshine and rainbows when you were thinking about going back to college in early August. You were most worried about your new wardrobe or which colors of pens to purchase.
But then reality set in. Only a few weeks into the semester and your stress is already building.
Yep, I get it. I may be on the "other side" as a college professor, but being on this side of things helps me see your perspective. So many papers to write and so many deadlines. Your professors expect a lot out of you, you want to spend time on your social life...not to mention juggling work and thinking about your future career. It's a lot to deal with all at once! Especially if you had a nice break this summer.
The good news is you are not alone and there are many strategies that can help.
Many other college students feel the same stress - I can promise you that. Maybe they don't look like it in class, but many of your peers are dealing with the exact same feelings. Do you hang out with the people who feed into your stress, just constantly talking about it? Or do you DO something about your stress? Well you must be ready to take action since you're reading this blog post! Surround yourself with people who are ready to take action and actually do something about their stress.
Map out your entire semester by weekly tasks and activities.
This sounds like a lot of work, but just a few minutes mapping out your semester can help you see the bigger picture. You can draw something simple or make a fancy Excel file. Either way, visualize the semester and the weeks in front of you. Do you have three exams in one week? Or a big project due before November? Map it out so you can see where the most "stressful" times will occur.
Now can you dial back on some of your other activities during the most stressful weeks? If week eight looks like it will be jam-packed with exams, papers, and projects, then can you find a way to work less at your job that week? Or make sure you have no ambitions to binge watch something on Netflix? Knowing that a big week is coming up helps you plan ahead. You can also warn others around you about your most stressful week. Tell your long distance friend that they might not hear from you until week nine or ten. Mapping is a great tool that helps you break down projects and the semester into manageable pieces. Think of that classic saying - you have to eat the elephant one bite at a time...and you'll be taking your semester one day or week at a time.
Schedule "worry sessions" for yourself.
A lot of times our stress is caused by the worry we have. You worry about your future career. You worry about what you said in class. Or how you reacted to a friend. Or what your sibling is up to back home. The list of things you might be worrying about is endless. But thinking about all of that worry all the time wears you down. And leads you to say, "I'm stressed out." Some of the worry is manageable through action steps, like we talked about above. But other times the worry just doesn't seem to go anywhere.
So what if you scheduled a "worry session" each day for yourself? You could say, "Between 8:00-8:30pm I am going to just sit and worry." The idea is that as worries start to pop up in your day, you say, "I'll save these for later," instead of stewing about them throughout your day. Try it out. See if it helps with the rest of your day. Now you might want to follow it up with a session of mindfulness meditation or relaxation. But "saving" your worries for later may help you recognize that your day does not have to be consumed by them.
* And if you deal with any anxiety disorders, please follow your counselor's or therapist's recommendations for your care. Of course!
Spend ten minutes writing about why you value your education.
I know, more writing in your life is just what you need! But hear me out. Writing out your personal values has a lot of research behind it. So let's tailor it to your education. Why are you working on your degree? Why are you in college at all? List out the reasons and hang on to the list. Revisiting the list from time to time can help remind you about your core values related to education. You'll get through this stress and this semester. Especially because you value it.
So those are some quick tips for you to effectively deal with back to college stress.