Fed up of feeling overwhelmed by your studies?

Whether you’ve got a to-do list the length of your arm or a big, scary task that you have no idea how to tackle, overwhelm is a not-so-great place to be in your studies.

When you feel overwhelmed by your studies you lose motivation, you feel stressed and panicked and you end up making little to no progress…which then only increases your overwhelm!

It’s time to get unstuck

In this post I’m going to share with you two simple steps you can take right now to stop feeling overwhelmed by your studies. Do these and you’ll feel like a weight’s been lifted. You’ll feel in control, more motivated and more positive about your studying journey. And you’ll use this newfound energy to make awesome progress towards your academic goals.

This post originated as a podcast episode which you can listen to below or search for episode 140 of the Chloe Made Me Study podcast. Or, if you’re a more of a learn-by-reading student, carry on for the rough-and-ready blog version based on the script.

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Two funny things about this episode.

  1. I wanted to release this episode last week but I was too overwhelmed with my gargantuan workload!
  2. I initially wanted to give you like 10 tips for getting out of overwhelm and then I realised this would be an overwhelming amount of information in an overwhelmingly long episode which would kindaaaaa defeat the point! So here we go. A bit of context and explanation and then two simple steps to get you from panicked to ‘oh my goodness I can actually do this’ 

What IS overwhelm?

We can become overwhelmed for a few reasons.

  1. Simply too much to do in not enough time. This may be because you've overcommitted. It might be because you had to take time off unexpectedly, for example if you were ill, and now you’ve got way too much to catch up on. Or it may be because you underestimated how long a task or multiple tasks would take you. And when everything feels important and urgent or even overdue, you can spend more time panicking and fretting than actually making progress.
  2. Another reason why you can start feeling overwhelmed by your studies is because you have no idea how to proceed with a task or multiple tasks. When you've hit a task that feels insurmountable or too complicated. Maybe you don’t know who to ask for help or you don’t want to ask for help for some reason. Whatever the cause, you feel stuck.

What does overwhelm feel like? What are some of the reasons for overwhelm?

Let’s talk about what overwhelm feels like. It’s always good to develop awareness of your various states so that you can then take targeted action. Without this awareness, when we feel negative about studying it can become this amorphous blob of emotions and panic. So gaining some self awareness means that when you’re feeling not-so-great you can identify whether you feel sad, angry, scared, overwhelmed…etc. and then act accordingly. 

So I want you to take a sec to think about what overwhelm feels like to you. How does it feel in your body? What sensations do you experience? What thought loops do you get caught in?

When I’m in overwhelm I feel very agitated. My heart rate is raised and I feel a bit jittery. My brain jumps between thoughts and ideas and tasks and I struggle to focus on anything…which is irritating as some focus would allow me to make progress which would be pretty helpful at getting me OUT of overwhelm!

For me, overwhelm comes with side dishes of hopelessness and negative self-talk. I can go into that child-like place of wishing someone would just come and fix everything, and I can start believing that I’m to blame for getting myself into ANOTHER mess.

So when my thoughts are getting spirally and unhelpful, I know it’s time to take action to move away from overwhelm.

OK, so that’s a little about why we can get into an overwhelmed state, and hopefully you’ve identified a few tell-tale signs that distinguish overwhelm from other not so helpful emotions.

Two steps to stop feeling overwhelmed by your studies

Now, the two steps to get out of overwhelm relate to the tense I want you to operate from. Tense as in past, present or future.

1. Future gaze to prioritise and motivate

First we’re going to utilise our future gaze, we’re going to look ahead to reconnect to our goals and help us prioritise our tasks. So I’ve got a few questions for you.

– Why are you studying this course? What are your big reasons for furthering your education? WHY is pushing yourself in this way so important to you?

This will help you remember WHY you’re doing this and hopefully remind you that the discomfort IS worth it

– Then, a little bit closer to home, what are you working towards currently? What assessments are on the horizon? Have you got a big assignment coming up? Or an exam?

It’s really important that we pause and look ahead at times in our studying. If we stay too much in the present tense (or the past) we can find ourselves filling our to-do lists with every study tasks we can think of, or we can blindly accept that the lists of reading and tasks our lecturers want us to do is actually what we SHOULD be doing. If you’ve listened to the podcast for a while you’ll know that I’m a big believer in strategic studying – which means ensuring you’re using the time and energy you have available to work on the tasks that are most going to help you achieve your academic goals. For some of you, that will mean NOT doing everything. It won’t be true of every course but for many, many of them, you definitely do not have to read everything and complete every activity to achieve epic grades. And when you’re feeling overwhelmed by your studies, you need to start being hella brutal with your to-do list. Anything on there that isn’t going to help you move towards that important assessment on the horizon can be put aside. Maybe some of these tasks will get done eventually if they’re important to assessments further down the line, but some of them can likely be binned altogether.

This is where outside perspective can be really helpful. I recommend to my students to reach out to their tutors or lecturers when they’re feeling overwhelmed and ask for their advice on which tasks are the most important. The issue here is that some lecturers are, dare I say it, friggin’ unhelpful on this matter. They might reply and say it’s all important, even if it’s not.

This is where my membership, the Kickbutt Students Club, can help. Students can show me their task list, talk me through their upcoming assessments and then I’ll help them prioritise their task list and take an overwhelming mountain down to a very doable, manageable molehill.

So that’s step 1. Look to the future and connect or reconnect to your big reasons for furthering your education. And look at your next assessment and identify the key tasks you’ll need to complete, and the ones that you can delay or ditch entirely.

2. Present centre to get clear on your next steps and get yourself in the right state

Next, we’re going to bring our attention to the present tense. This is where we ensure we’re in the most helpful state possible and where we get clear on our very next steps. Not the next 10 but the next one or two.

OK, so it’s time for you to get out of overwhelm and into action, how’s your state? Now by state I mean your current mindset, emotions, feelings, needs

Do you need some fresh air?

Are you hungry?

Dehydrated?

Full of nervous energy that needs discharging?

Or a bit sleepy and you’re in need of an energy boost?

How’s your study space? A mess of papers and random non-studying stuff?

Are you wearing comfy clothes? Or tight jeans that will distract you by digging in?

Do you need to throw your phone out of a window because you’ve been on Tiktok for bloody ages? (Or at least put it in another room for a bit?)

We can sometimes feel like our state is out of our control or that there’s not much we can do to shift from an unhelpful one to a helpful one. But we have so much more control than we know! So the next time you’re feeling overwhelmed, check in with your current state and needs and do something about it.

This is another way to help us get from not studying to studying. When we’re lacking motivation it can feel really hard to start studying. Well what if you just had to motivate yourself for some pre-studying instead which consists of these tasks to get yourself in the best possible state? Do these things first which are pretty easy and you’ll find you’ll feel more motivated to study.

The final part of this step is to get clear on your very next step.

A big part of overwhelm is feeling like you have 172 things to do. The way to get out of overwhelm is to start seeing some progress. So I invite you to decide on the ONE thing you’re going to do first.

And you get to decide what sort of task this is based on what you know about yourself – this requires self-reflexivity which is a super important study and life skill.

Based on what you know about yourself as a learner, do you think you’re best suited to go for a quick win first, a simple or easy task to get the ball rolling? Or…are you best suited to eat the frog? To get that hard or slightly scary thing out the way so that you can breathe a sigh of relief and everything feels 10 x easier after? Your decision.

So…there we have it!

Two simple steps to stop feeling overwhelmed by your studies.

  1. Gaze into the future, reconnect with your big studying why and sort through your task list to identify the priorities and delay or ditch the less important things
  2. Bring your attention to the present to address your current state and needs and identify your very next step that’s going to see yourself break the back of that overwhelm and help you gain awesome momentum to keep going.

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