Wellbeing Wednesday Q&A: workload, anxiety, degree choices

Your questions answered by Christine Morrison, Head of Product Management at SHOUT and clinical expert at Mental Health Innovations.

 

You asked:

I’m really struggling with my uni workload. I can’t keep up and the stress is starting to affect me.

Christine answered:

Often the things that stress and upset us the most are because of a misalignment of our expectations. If we set unrealistic expectations it is easy to become distressed when we don’t meet them – even if what we do accomplish is something to be proud of. Take a moment to reflect – are your unmet expectations for what keeping up looks like distressing you?

Remember to have some compassion for yourself – adapting to new courses, a global pandemic and so many other changes takes a lot out of us. To manage the stress, consider breaking down big tasks into tiny manageable bits and rewarding yourself with self-compassion each time you accomplish the small tasks. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for help – consider leaning on resources at your uni such as study support groups, office hours with professors, and asking other students for support.


You asked:

I keep having panic/anxiety attacks. I tried to talk about it with my family but they don’t understand and just say it’s because of uni.

Christine answered:

It takes incredible strength to reach out and share with others about our struggles. Your willingness to do this is admirable. Anxiety/panic attacks can be overwhelming and you don’t have to cope with this alone. Interestingly enough sometimes the people who love us most are the ones who are prone to minimise our struggles. Sometimes people do this because they care so much about us. They might have a hard time accepting that we are going through a difficult time – the thought might make them feel helpless so they dismiss or minimise it.

One thing that can be helpful is to set expectations with others when you share about your panic/anxiety – do you just need a listening ear, someone to help to explore ways to cope and manage it, a hug, a distraction? Take some time to reflect and/or reach out to a Shout 85258 volunteer to talk through what would be the most helpful support you can get from your family. Once you have a clear understanding of what the best support looks like for you, then you can share that with them as well. If others know how they can support you, they may be less likely to minimise it.


You asked:

I hate my course. I think I made the wrong degree choice and not sure what to do now and it feels overwhelming. Talking about it out loud just makes me stress about it more, how can I sort it through in my head?

Christine answered:

It makes sense to be feeling overwhelmed and reaching out to begin talking about it shows you’re already taking steps to manage this. That takes a strong and capable person. Sometimes, when we’re under a lot of stress, we experience thinking errors called cognitive distortions. When you experience a cognitive distortion, the way you interpret things is usually negatively biased.

Catastrophising is a cognitive distortion where you see an unfavourable outcome to an event and then decide that if this outcome does happen, the results will be a disaster. For example, you might say to yourself: “If I fail this test, I will never pass school, I won’t get a job I like and I’ll never amount to anything.” Or, “If my girlfriend breaks up with me, I’ll never find anyone else, I’ll probably be alone for years and not have my own family.”

Our brains make these errors because they’re trying to brace us, but they have a tendency to make the outcome of a situation seem much worse, dire, or severe than it is. This causes us to feel stress and dread. There are lots of methods to manage cognitive distortions so that you can face the problem head on and manage it. Consider trying to look for shades of grey, alternative explanations, objective evidence, and positive interpretations to expand your thinking.

You might find it helpful to write down your original thought, followed by three or four alternative interpretations. It is also important to remember that making a choice, even if we don’t like the outcome of that choice isn’t an entirely bad thing – you’ve just gained more knowledge about what brings you joy and fulfilment which is an extremely valuable thing to learn about yourself.


You asked:

I’m in lockdown with my flatmates and feel left out all the time. I’m not from the UK and they don’t include me. What can I do?

Christine answered:

Feeling excluded can be lonely and make us feel down. It is important to recognise that you aren’t alone in this feeling. We all go through this. Even the person who seems like they are the centre of a social scene will experience this feeling at some point. It’s human nature and you aren’t alone. To understand how to best connect with others, it can be helpful to focus on your own self-awareness. When we know what brings us joy, entertainment, laughter, deep conversation etc, we know how and where to look for this with others.

Take some time to reflect on times when you’ve felt the most connected to others – were you doing a certain activity, talking about a certain topic, or in a certain setting? Take note of the things that bring you joy and inspiration. The more awareness you have of your own needs the easier it will be to connect with them in others. Also remember that it can take time to find connection – some people build it quickly others take time and need more variety – faster connection doesn’t mean better.


You asked:

I feel pressure to get involved in partying and feel uncomfortable about going against the guidelines – but my flatmates just ignore it. How can I talk to them about it without being made fun of?

Christine answered:

It is commendable that you have your own set of values and are aware of them. In order to have a productive conversation we need to be aware of our own boundaries and needs. It’s helpful to spend some time considering what it is you are missing by not being involved in partying. Do you see it as a way to meet friends? A space to let go of stress? A way to connect with a romantic interest? Once you can clearly articulate what it is you’re hoping to get from partying you might see some other ways to meet these needs that don’t compromise your comfort.

In terms of talking to your flatmates, one strategy that can lead to productive conversations about tricky topics is to talk from your own perspective. Express how you feel vs. characterising other’s actions as good or bad. So for example you could try, “I’m craving letting off some steam but nervous about partying – would you guys want to kick a football around?” vs. “You all partying and going against the guidelines isn’t cool.” You’ll notice the first option is non-judgmental and opens the door for collaboration around a solution. The second option may come across as judging their behaviour and cause them to become defensive instead of work with you to meet your needs.

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