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How Can I Stop Feeling So Overwhelmed by School (and Life)?

How Can I Stop Feeling So Overwhelmed by School (and Life)?

So, I'm in college and I'm really stressing about research papers and time management (and just living!). How do I manage academics with my social and fangirl life?

Starting college is kind of like being dropped into the deep end of the ocean, when you've only swam in a baby pool your whole life. No matter how “prepared” your teachers, counselors, or parents promise you are, living independently is likely the hardest test you’ll take (even worse than AP Calc).

You’re supposed to make friends, adjust to a new environment, figure out your life’s ~purpose~, and get good grades. All at the same time. And when you’re used to high school’s super-structured schedule, with every minute accounted for, it’s no wonder people have a hard time adjusting. Especially when it comes to time management.

Figuring out how you’re possibly going to cram everything—classes, homework, social life, and alone time—into a single day is enough to make anyone freak out. But try very hard not to get too overwhelmed. Like all big problems, the best way to handle it is to take things one step at a time. 

Prioritize your work. First, figure out what things are 911 emergency-level, and which ones can wait. That research paper that’s due tomorrow should probably go to the top of your to-do list; that party in two weeks that you promised to help plan should probably go at the bottom. Write it down (like, with a pencil and paper) and organize your list with the most important things up top. Simply visualizing what you need to do is a great first step. There are tons of different to-do list strategies (and apps to help with it!), so once you figure out which works best for you, stick with it. Creating a to-do list habit is one of the most crucial ways to keep your obligations under control, and it’ll come in handy later in life—trust us on this one.

Also: Don’t work ALL the time. Although college is obviously about learning stuff, it’d be pretty depressing to spend all four years stuck in the library. So pencil in some personal time for yourself, too (this is also where the to-do list comes in!). If you’ve had a particularly productive afternoon hitting the books, reward yourself. Take a coffee break, hang out with your friends, watch a trashy TV show, work out, do your fangirl thing...whatever makes you feel happy. It can be easy (too easy!) to get caught up in all the stuff you have to do, but that’s when your mental health suffers. So don’t forget to put yourself first—go ahead and be a little selfish!—and don’t be afraid to say no to social obligations when you’re not in the mood. Listen to your body; don’t forget to sleep, eat, and exercise. These three things become surprisingly easy to push aside once you get busy, but they're necessary to surviving school in one piece.

Find how you learn best. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to time management. So figure out what works best for you, then run with it! If you’re a morning person (teach us your ways?), then set your alarm and do your work before most people wake up; if you’re a night owl, do your homework later in the evening. It's not groundbreaking, but it'll make a big difference. The cool part about college is that it actually gives you an opportunity to try different things and determine how you work most productively.

Accepting that you’ll never find a perfect balance is essential; a perfect balance doesn’t exist, period. Sometimes you’ll spend a truly offensive amount of time at school; sometimes you’ll put entirely too many hours into work, and sometimes you’ll be able to luxuriate in all of your interests and hobbies and friends and TV (like, say, holiday break). Aspire to find balance, but get comfortable on the teeter-totter that is life.

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