What to Do When You Feel Overwhelmed in College

Take 30 minutes to create an action plan

She wants to do well in her Degree
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Not everyone graduates from college; doing so is a huge deal because it's an incredibly difficult journey. It's expensive, takes a long time, and requires a lot of dedication. And there never seems to be any rest from what other people expect of you. In fact, it's sometimes easier to feel smothered by your responsibilities than it is to feel in control.

Fortunately, being in college means that you have both the desire and ability to figure out how to make things work—even if you don't feel like you can. Take a deep breath, start simply, and create a plan.

Take Half an Hour

First, block off 30 minutes from your schedule. It can be right now, or it can be in a few hours. The longer you wait, of course, the longer you'll feel stressed and overwhelmed. The sooner you can make a 30-minute appointment with yourself, the better.

Once you've reserved yourself for 30 minutes, set a timer (try using the alarm on your smartphone) and use your time as follows.

Create a Plan

Five minutes: Grab a pen or use your computer, tablet, or smartphone and make lists of what you have to do. And while this may sound easy, there's one catch: Instead of making a long, running list, divide it up by sections. For example, ask yourself:

  • What do I need to do for my Chem 420 class?
  • What do I need to do as a club vice-chair?
  • What do I need to do for my financial paperwork?

Create mini-lists and organize them by topic.

Five minutes: Mentally walk through your schedule for the rest of the week (or, at the very least, the next five days). Ask yourself: "Where do I absolutely have to be (such as class) and where do I want to be (like a club meeting)?" Use whatever time-management system you have to mark down what you have to do versus what you want to do.

Ten minutes: Break down your calendar using your micro lists. Ask yourself:

  • What must be done today?
  • What must be done tomorrow?
  • What can wait until tomorrow?
  • What can wait until next week?

Be honest with yourself. There are only so many hours in a day, and there is only so much you can reasonably expect to do. Determine what can wait and what cannot. Assign to-do items from your lists to various days in a way that sets reasonable expectations about how much you can get done in a certain amount of time.

Five minutes: Spend a few minutes to break down how you are going to spend the rest of your day (or night). Allocate as much time as possible in your schedule, ensuring that you account for things like breaks and meals. Specifically, determine how you will spend the next five to 10 hours.

Five minutes: Spend your final five minutes getting yourself and your space ready to work. Figure out:

  • Do you need to go for a brisk walk?
  • Clean up a workspace in your room?
  • Head to the library?
  • Get some water and coffee?

Get yourself moving and prepare your environment so that you can accomplish your tasks.

Get a Fresh Start

Once your 30 minutes are up, you'll have made to-do lists, organized your schedule, planned out the rest of your day (or night), and prepared yourself to start. This will allow you to focus on necessary tasks over the next few days; instead of always worrying about studying for an upcoming exam, you can tell yourself, "I'm studying for my exam on Thursday night. Right now I must finish this paper by midnight."

Consequently, instead of feeling overwhelmed, you can feel in charge and know that your plan will allow you to finally get things done.