You’ve beat the major stress symptoms, you’re feeling less anxious… but something still doesn’t feel quite right. We get it — senior high can have you feeling overwhelmed. It may feel like there’s just too much you need to get through.
We chatted to Ben Voller, an HSC teacher and a Biology & Psychology graduate, to learn more about what ‘overwhelm’ is and the steps you should follow to manage it.
Now, we’ve already talked a lot about managing your study, stress and time restraints, so this article will focus more on your overall lifestyle — these skills will help you during HSC, and well after you graduate. Come with us and ditch the study for a second!
What is ‘overwhelm’ and how do you cope when you’re feeling overwhelmed?
Lifeline suggests that if you feel unable to cope, are exhausted and or finding it difficult to sleep, you may be overwhelmed.
As these feelings build, your body perceives stress and your adrenal glands release cortisol into your body. Cortisol, and another hormone called norepinephrine, may keep your body on high alert, increasing your heart rate and raising blood pressure.
So, there is a very real reason you feel so overwhelmed! If you have thoughts such as “this is too much”, or “I have so much to do and so little time”, it is helpful to step back, consider your capabilities and examine how you can improve your own mental health.
Step #1: Stay Healthy
You’ve heard it before, but it’s so important that we’ll say it again — exercise will help you to be less overwhelmed. There’s three primary reasons for this.
First, physical exercise releases endorphins — the happy chemicals! Your favourite kind of sport will help bring those pesky cortisol levels down, leaving you calmer and ready to refocus.
When your muscles contract, you also release myokine, which is a protein that can help us relax.
In fact, exercise is one of the fastest ways to relieve symptoms of overwhelm. What other activity can engage many areas of our body and brain, all in one hit?
A Break from Study
Exercise will also ensure you have a much-needed study break.
“Some students neglect exercise, trying to squeeze in an extra hour of study and find that they struggle to be productive for these long, drawn-out sessions,” Ben said.
“If they took the time to exercise as part of their normal routine, they would find themselves able to learn more deeply.”
There’s a reason Ben suggests this — when you exercise, your body produces an increased amount of neurotrophins, which are a family of little proteins that help your neurons to thrive. This leads to increased memory and learning abilities in the hippocampus region of your brain.
Do Something You Enjoy
Finally, (and far more simply), exercise lets you do something you enjoy! You can pick anything, from walking, to the gym, to roller skating.
“Make sure it’s something that you enjoy doing and you’ll want to come back to it as part of a routine,” Ben said.
Step #2: Get an Adequate Amount of Sleep
Let’s break this one into two categories; sleep hygiene and sleep consistency.
“Sleep hygiene is how people treat the area that they sleep in. It considers whether or not they use their sleep area for study as well,” Ben said.
Your bed and general sleep area should be a place to relax and unwind. If you’re working in the same area as you rest, your body will not be able to set consistent boundaries between the two.
Treating your bedroom like a second lounge or study means your brain will link your bed with activity, and that’s not what we want. If you can help it, this includes being on your phone in bed.
Not only does this break up your relaxation time, but the blue light from your phone will restrain the production of melatonin and keep you awake.
“A separate room for study would be ideal, or study at a desk. But don’t study where you sleep,” Ben added. “This will result in a lesser quality of sleep and a longer period of time to get to sleep, which is a recipe for overwhelm in your day.”
The second important factor is having a consistent bed time and wake time. You want this to be realistic, but still offer you enough sleep. Ideally, you’re looking at 8 hours.
“If you’ve planned your sleep, you are probably planning enough sleep, which is so critical for memory consolidation,” Ben said.
“Going to bed and waking up at the same time each day is really helpful for creating a rhythm.”
Ben added that eventually, your body may know it’s own sleep-wake cycle and will wake up without an alarm. This is an excellent way to ensure REM, or deep sleep, isn’t interrupted.
If you’re getting enough of the right kind of sleep (roughly 5 sleep cycles a night), you’re far more likely to be balanced throughout the day. This will decrease feelings of being overwhelmed.
Step #3: Set Realistic Goals
Ben told us that goal-setting is great, but only when it is realistic and will make you feel accomplished.
“Many students find themselves setting unrealistic goals and expectations for themselves. When a student sets unrealistic goals and fails to meet them, they create ‘logical fallacies’ and call their day a loss,” he said.
Logical fallacies occur when our errors of reasoning undermine good judgement. An example would be if you believe you can finish two 3-hour prac tests in six hours, with no break. Whilst this is theoretically achievable, it’s not realistic to sit at your desk for six hours with no break.
Unrealistic goal-setting is particularly prevalent in high achieving students and can lead to feelings of depletion and overwhelm. Our brain loves small rewards, so being able to tick off a task will keep you motivated.
One great way to set achievable goals is through the SMART method;
S — Specific: Make your goal clear.
M — Measurable: Do you have specific criteria to know when you have completed a goal?
A — Achievable: Can you realistically complete this?
R — Realistic: Is this goal something that you have the resources and skills for? Is it actually relevant to what you’re trying to achieve?
T — Timely: Do you have a clear timeline with a start and end date?
Ben also suggested that students should chat to those around them when goal-setting.
“The students’ parents and friends know them better than some arbitrary rule… They need to know what works best,” he said.
Step #4: Use the Resources Available to You
During your HSC, there are so many resources available! Perhaps this concept actually adds to your overwhelm, but using resources well will likely put you back on track.
Ben summed this into three T’s — teachers, textbooks and tutors.
In most scenarios, your teachers love to offer their time.
Most teachers, or schools, also have textbook resources and prior learning materials that you can use to your advantage. Simply asking may unlock some great past papers, study notes and subject breakdowns that you didn’t know were available!
Leaning off other people’s skill can be a great way to decrease your own workload and feel less overwhelmed.
Finally, if you’re blessed enough to have a tutor like those at Art of Smart, claw their brain for knowledge! After all, they’re an expert on your subject for a reason. Embrace help from peer tutors and library programs, too.
If you don’t have a tutor, many universities, including the University of Sydney, offer free HSC workshops which will provide great tips for acing your study and feeling on top of your workload.
You can also find some great study resources according to subjects on our website!
Ultimately, HSC is a time when so many of us feel overwhelmed. You may not be able to eliminate these feelings completely (because, let’s face it, you have a massive task ahead of you this year), but we hope these practical steps will help you manage your overwhelm and come out on top!
Lucinda Garbutt-Young hopes to one day be writing for a big-shot newspaper… or maybe just for a friendly magazine in the arts sector. Right now, she is enjoying studying a Bachelor of Public Communication (Public Relations and Journalism) at UTS while she writes on the side. She also loves making coffees for people in her job as a barista, and loves nothing more than a sun shower.