How to Stay on Top of Everything When You Feel Overwhelmed
The first couple of weeks of university in Australia are over and I'm beginning to drown in a sea of so many new things and way too much coursework. If those of you who have more experience at college have any advice for keeping my head above water, let me know! I will be eternally grateful.
Been there! We're never not there, to be honest. Starting any sort of new experience always feels a little overwhelming. Heck, life in general can feel a little overwhelming. And that feeling doesn’t exactly go away with age. If it’s not college, then it’s starting a new job, moving to a new city...you get the idea. But even though it’s impossible to prevent the occasional overwhelming situation, there are plenty of ways to keep your head above water (and enjoy yourself, while you’re at it).
We asked a few of our readers for input, and they all agreed that staying organized is the number one way to prevent stress. Sofia Wolfson, a high schooler from California, suggests doing double duty with a planner and a computer calendar—and, as self-proclaimed organizational freaks, we agree. “Making lists always helps to stay on top of things and also helps to lay out your goals concretely when you're feeling flustered and overwhelmed,” she said. We enthusiastically cosign an app called Wunderlist for our to-do lists; it allows you to share your task lists with other people (great if you’re working on a group project!) and its clean interface instantly makes us feel more organized than scribbling down stuff in a notebook that we’ll inevitably lose. But no matter what method you prefer, nothing is more satisfying than marking a task off as “done.”
Lauren Demers takes this idea one step further by ranking her to-dos: “I always try and make sure to prioritize things, from most important to least,” she said. “That helps me focus on what really needs to be done and what I can possibly put off for the next day.” It’s also a great reminder that you don’t necessary *have* to accomplish every single thing immediately—if you can, give your brain a breather and work on the non-priority stuff a bit later. Burnout is real, after all.
But managing stress goes beyond compulsively writing lists. “An important thing for me is surrounding myself with like-minded people,” said Aisling Lenihan. “School can be really hard, and it's so easy to allow yourself to fall into the trap of complaining about your workload. Sometimes it's impossible not to. However, if you surround yourself with people who make you HAPPY, and force you to be driven and (somewhat) enthusiastic, I find that the stress of school starts to decrease a little! Rid yourself of negative company, it's never going to make your school life better.” Or your life in general, honestly.
Some more brilliant advice that we plan to steal immediately comes from Kayla Putzer, who said she’s learned to face stress head-on. “My best friend taught me to make my anxiety and stress my friend. You look it in the eye (which is totally scary and can be really hard to do) and say to yourself 'I'm not letting you make me mad.'" And, while it’s hard not to lose yourself in these types of situations and freak out, take it from Kayla’s own experience: “It's important to remember that you're better than your anxiety or stress. It might take time but you can do it.”
One thing we’ve personally found to be pretty invaluable is getting our heart rate up (and by that we mean from fitness, not from anxiety). And we’re not alone. Zora Ilunga-Reed said, “I'm a huge advocate of working out or going for a walk when things start to get super stressful. It can be difficult to get out the house or push yourself to sweat when all your body wants to do is sleep/study, but it's a great break and a really effective brain-refresher.” Trust us: She’s totally right.
And while it sounds counter-intuitive, sometimes all it takes is setting aside a few minutes to sit and do absolutely nothing. “If you find yourself stressed, try out some meditation, mindfulness, or just simply sitting, breathing, and being in your room for a minute to collect yourself,” Sofia said. You got this.