Overwhelmed, Overloaded or Feeling Out of Control?

Strategies to Combat Study Overwhelm

It’s that time of year when the workload increases, assignments pile up and the reality of your study habits (or not!) starts to set in. Signs that you may be overwhelmed
and feeling stressed include forgetfulness, difficulty sleeping, the feeling of being perpetually sick, trouble concentrating and focusing, unable to stay on a task and
emotional changes such as being moody or crying easily.*

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If you are feeling overwhelmed, overloaded or out of control, here are some strategies for you.

Overwhelm is usually caused by three main factors. The first is disorganisation. You know you are here when you feel you are constantly reacting to what is being given to you. Without a plan, you rush to get things completed, possibly at the last minute and are not sure what is to happen next. The second factor is procrastination. This often feels like you are drowning in the workload and are avoiding doing anything with multiple activities or tasks that are more pleasurable. “I’ll do it tomorrow.” is a favourite cry from someone procrastinating. Thirdly, overwhelm may be caused from overcommitment. This is promising you will get tasks completed when you do not have enough hours in the day. This may happen when several assignments are due in the same week as your major sporting event or stage debut. When all three – disorganisation, procrastination and overcommitment – are combined, it can lead to chronic overwhelm and stress.

Here are some tips and strategies to help:

Clarify and Prioritise

Firstly, get clear on what needs to be done and then prioritise your tasks. You may need to set aside 60-75 minutes to do this. It might seem like you don’t have any
spare time to do this, however the time spent here will set the wheels in motion to help you move forward. Follow these steps:

1. Make a list of all the tasks which are stressing you and looming. You might do this on paper, a Word document, a spreadsheet, a Google Calendar task or even on Notes on your phone. I recommend using a spreadsheet, which allows you to sort the list later. Write everything on the list – big, small and insignificant tasks. Whilst the list on its own can seem daunting, it is better to have the information out of your head and onto paper. This is the first step to quashing the overwhelm.
2. Prioritise the tasks. Next to each task write an A, B or C. A is for “Must Do’s.” Use this for tasks which are critical to complete, high priority or close to deadlines. B means it is a “Should Do.” These are tasks which are medium priority, will require completion in time and not as urgent as the A tasks. Write a C next to all the tasks which are “Nice To Do.” This is for low priority and low consequence tasks. If it doesn’t get completed soon, it will be okay.
3. Order the A tasks. If you are doing this on a spreadsheet, you can now sort your data into the A, B & C tasks.
4. Code the A tasks in order of importance with the numbers 1,2,3 etc. You may do this for the B tasks as well.
5. Chunk each task. Start with your A1 task and break it into smaller, achievable steps. This makes it easier to see your progress. For example, if you have a Maths
graphing task, your chunks may look like this:
– – collect data for graph
– – find graph paper
– – plot the x and y axis
– – Label the axis
– – add data points
– – make a key
– – write an analysis of the graph and interpret the data
6. Now, start with task A1 and focus on that until it is completed. Even if you get interrupted, keep coming back to this task until it is completed or until you have
crossed off some of the key chunks causing you to feel like you have made a significant start.
7. In the same way, continue with A2, A3 and so on until you have completed each task. It may take an hour, a day or a week. When the A tasks are completed, move
onto the B’s.
8. At the end of the week, re-evaluate the list. You may be able to cross an entire task off your list, or at least chunks of it. This should feel good and show the progress you have made! Write or reorder the list for the following week and start with your A1 job.

Establish a Routine

Next, create a routine that works for you. Being productive is a system and series of routines and habits. These routines are the building blocks of success. Choose a simple routine to start your morning. It might be with some exercise, a great breakfast or goal setting and then your studies. Whatever you choose, stick with it for three weeks. High performance coach Robin Sharma declares, “When you win your morning, you win the day.” Afternoon and evening routines work the same way. Establish habits before and during your study time and stick to them.

Say No!

Decide what matters to you and say no to anything that is a distraction and isn’t aligned with your goals and priorities. No doesn’t have to mean no forever – it may just mean not right now.

Gamify Your Study

Turn your study into a game with mini rewards. Set yourself mini targets and award yourself with mini breaks, perhaps a walk, some brain food or a more preferred task. Download the free iStudyAlarm onto your phone to time yourself for 20 minut study followed by a timed 5-minute break to keep you on track.

Ask for Help

Learning does not have to be a solo event. Ask for help when you are stuck. Call or message a friend or parent. Ask your teacher for guidance when you are unsure. Find a
mentor or a counsellor if required.

Focus on Your Why

Having a bigger purpose and goals are one sure way to help you lower the overwhelm or stress. Why are you studying? What will you gain from this work and dedication now? Imagine yourself 1-5 years in the future doing your dream job, living your imagined life. Tell yourself, “This is why I am doing it.”

Calm Yourself

Lowering the stress is essential for productivity and focus. Go for a walk, mediate or do some gentle stretching to release tension. Try journaling your thoughts and feelings as they are often better out than in. Taking a bath, listening to music, or having a dance party for one can help to discharge negative feelings!

Other ideas to keep you productive include:

– Use study alerts on your phone as reminders to get started.
– Turn off distractions such as social media, spell check (go back later and fix the errors), notifications and the TV.
– Remember, everything is hard before it is easy. Learning takes time!
– Clean your workspace. Clutter free environments are best for focus and concentration.
– Take short study breaks to refresh and revive, but get back to into the flow as soon as possible!
– Recognise that a bit of pressure is a good thing and use this to your advantage.

Finally, remember not to link your personal worth to how much you do. Wearing a ‘busy as a badge’ can be toxic. It is okay not to be a workaholic. Keep in mind that you are more than the sum of your achievements. Take time to have fun and do the activities which bring you joy and energy. Self-care can ultimately lead to more productivity.

*If you think you could have an anxiety disorder, depression or a mental illness, please talk to a mental health professional.

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Karen Tui Boyes

Karen Tui Boyes is a champion for LifeLong Learning. A multi-award-winning speaker, educator and businesswoman, she is an expert in effective teaching, learning, study skills, motivation and positive thinking. Karen is the CEO of Spectrum Education, Principal of Spectrum Online Academy and the author of 10 books. She loves empowering teachers, parents and students and is the wife to one and the mother of two young adults.
Karen was named the GIFEW Evolutionary Woman of the Year 2022.