Balancing schoolwork, jobs, friendships, and being on your own for the first time can be a heavy load to carry. Experiencing stress in college is to be expected, and there are many tried and true methods for easing some of the worries and re-centering yourself.
Here’s what to do when school makes you want to cry:
- Check-in with your mental health.
- Assess your current course load.
- Make sure you are making time for you.
- Talk to your college counselor or another trusted staff.
- Make sure you are doing what you are passionate about.
- Re-center and re-motivate yourself.
- Take a break.
- Assess your learning style.
- Re-prioritize your to-do list.
These methods aren’t only generally helpful in life but have research backing them up. Whether you try one, all, or some combination of the above methods, you’re sure to get to the root of the stress and discover a better way to be gentle with yourself in tough times. Below, we expand on each of the ten suggestions.
1. Check-In With Your Mental Health
If you’re feeling overwhelmed or stressed to the point that you want to cry, there’s a good chance a mental health check-in will do you some good.
Mental health is all-encompassing. It refers to the way you look at and treat your body, the thoughts you’re having, and your ability to bounce back after stress. Contrary to popular belief, having well-balanced mental health isn’t just about positive thinking or always feeling happy.
It’s about feeling fulfilled in your life physically, spiritually, and mentally.
If you’ve been feeling unenthused about life, uninterested in the hobbies you used to enjoy, or constantly anxious about your day, it may be time to talk to a professional. Most colleges employ a professional to talk with students about campus resources or next steps.
You can check in with your resident advisor, a college counselor, or a trusted staff member.
Your mental health is just as important as your physical health. Just like you rest and find gentleness through a cold, you should do the same when feeling overwhelmed mentally. High mental stress can eventually turn physical, so see someone as soon as possible (source).
2. Assess Your Current Course Load
If you’ve identified your college as the root cause of your stress and crying, you may want to look at your course load.
Understandably, taking as many classes as you can at any given time might feel like the only option for you. Financial barriers, internship plans, and long-term goals can make it seem like taking 18 hours or more is your only choice. But you may want to be flexible in your thinking.
Taking 19 credit hours might save you from an extra year of college, but that won’t matter if you’re so burnt out you have to take a break halfway through your degree.
Your course load doesn’t just consist of the “credit hours” you take. Most classes will require at least double the number of credit hours studying. For example, if you take a 3-credit hour course, you’ll likely spend 6 hours studying on top of the time in class.
By this calculation, a 19-hour course load requires about 40 hours of studying. This is the same amount as a full-time job.
Again, there are some understandable financial barriers or long-term goals that may take a backseat if you need to rearrange your course load. But your mental health, motivation, and happiness are all worth it.
Check in with your academic advisor for the best options. Not only can they help you redistribute your course work, but they can also point you to campus resources that’ll support your well-being (source).
3. Make Sure You Are Making Time for You
Life can feel really hard to balance when you’re in school. You might be working a job to bring in money for tuition, trying to maintain friendships, and missing home. Adult life isn’t easy to navigate, and adding in school can make things feel messy.
While you jam-pack your schedule with school and work, don’t forget that prioritizing yourself is essential, too.
Personal time can be just as productive as your study time and work time. Try to fill up one of your mental health buckets through time just for you.
If your spirituality needs some attention, attend a meditation or look for organizations on campus. If you feel like your physical body lacks attention or care, sign up for a yoga class or do a dance workout in your home.
If it’s been months since you did any painting, set aside some time just for this.
Finding time for you doesn’t have to be a lonely endeavor, either. Some people thrive within social groups, and others thrive when they give themselves some independent time.
Finding a good group of friends by joining a club or an intramural sports team can be great for extroverts while finding a good book or a new show to watch can be great for introverts. Whether you find yourself an extrovert or introvert, make sure you are making time dedicated to just yourself.
However you craft your own time, just make sure it’s healthy. While it’s okay to let loose every once and a while, parties, and bars aren’t exactly a great place to refill your bucket. Try to be mindful and gentle while you pick out your intentional activity (source).
4. Talk to Your College Counselor or Another Trusted Staff
College counselors, academic advisors, and residential advisors are staff hired to support you.
It can feel overwhelming to admit to a person, especially if you’re unfamiliar with them, that you have a hard time with school, but it’s worth it. School staff are trained extensively on supporting students with resources, referrals, and more. Their entire job is based on finding creative ways to make you successful.
Many college staff are even trained in mental health support.
Talking to your counselor or advisor can be beneficial in many ways. If you’re stressed about how many hours you are working, they can help you find scholarships to take some of the load off. As we mentioned above, they can also help you reimagine your college course load so that you can feel more balanced.
Additionally, mental health support can be everything when you’re going through a hard time.
It may feel like second nature to self-isolate and stay away from others when you’re feeling blue, but there are tons of people out there who want to support you. You can cut right to the chase or enlist the help of a family member to ask your college about what mental health resources they offer.
Remember, you’re not alone (source).
5. Make Sure You Are Doing What You Are Passionate About
As you assess your mental health, course load, and network of supporters, there’s one more uncomfortable thing you may need to check up on, which is your major.
Nearly 30% of college students have changed their major, and 10% have changed it more than twice. Sometimes, once we start to get into the bulk of our coursework, we learn that what we thought we were passionate about and what we are actually passionate about don’t actually align.
Doing something you don’t feel excited about can make everything else seem meaningless and hopeless. It’s harder to study, absorb, and practice information that you don’t care about. If you’re starting to feel burnt out on your major, remember that you aren’t locked in even if you are almost done.
Before making any decisions, visit your academic counselor. Tons of colleges offer services that help you learn about your strengths and interests and then match you to a major or possible career.
If you feel like you are too close to graduation to switch or just need a little re-motivating, see the next point (source).
6. Re-Center and Re-Motivate Yourself
All of us need a little re-motivating sometimes.
If you feel uninterested in your major or career path, you can try to recenter yourself and source some motivation again. Ask yourself questions about why you went down this path in the first place or about what used to excite you about this conquest.
You can watch movies or videos that get you pumped up about your career or read books about your major that make you feel that spark again.
Colleges will usually put on events specifically for different schools or majors that might also help with motivation. Attending lectures or checking out experiment exhibitions might help you feel more excited about your major (source).
7. Take a Break
There’s nothing wrong with taking a little while to rest.
When we are feverish, nauseous, or stuffy, we naturally react by taking it a little easier than usual. But we have a much harder time resting when our mental health suffers. Whether you plan on taking a break for mere moments, hours, days, or weeks, you might want to consult someone you trust about taking a break.
Doing so will improve your memory, reduce stress, and improve your performance. So, in other words, sometimes you have to slow down to ultimately move more efficiently.
Reach out to your network and gauge their acceptability of a short break. You’ll be surprised how understanding most professors are when you’re honest about your workload and mental health.
Simply being honest about your current state of stress, asking for an extension on a paper or an excused absence from class, and then discussing your plan for catching up is usually taken pretty well.
Many colleges also offer programs or “brain breaks” during finals. Utilize these resources even if you have to go out of your way, as they were created with you in mind.
Hopefully, as we shed the weight of mental health stigma and become more comfortable with these critical conversations, more people will be equipped to handle these tough conversations. If you feel unsupported by teaching staff, you can talk to your academic advisor or counselor for other options (source).
8. Assess Your Learning Style
One reason you may be feeling so burnt out is your studying methods.
If you feel overwhelmed by tests, work deadlines, and absorbing all this new information, you might be studying in a way that isn’t conducive to your learning. Every person has a different learning style, and it’s not just a preference, as there’s a science to it.
The four main categories of learning styles are visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and reading/writing learners. While visual learners need to see information, auditory learners learn better when they focus on what they hear during lectures.
Kinesthetic learners need to practice things hands-on, and reading/writing learners like to read the information and write it down.
Finding out what kind of learner you are can help save you a ton of time studying and make the information more processible. You can take a quiz online to find out your learning style and then look up techniques specific to your learning style (source).
9. Re-Prioritize Your To-Do List
Sometimes the reason we are so stressed out is that, while we know that there’s a lot to do, we are just not exactly sure what that list consists of. If your college makes you so stressed you want to cry, you might sit down and look at your to-do list.
You may find that there’s less than you originally thought.
Some experts suggest changing your to-do list to help support your mental health. Prioritize a mental health activity every few tasks and find a balance (source).
The benefits of mindful breathing are unmatchable. Sometimes, taking a few intentional and gentle breaths can change everything.
There are breathing exercises for everyone. You can try belly breathing, practice counting while breathing, or find a mindful breathing activity. Yoga is a great way to move your body as you breathe, and running can be a great breathing activity for those who struggle with slow movement.
Breathing may not be the saving grace of all your problems, but it’s a terrific life vest when you start to feel like you are going under. Find the best breathing exercise for you and put it in your tool kit for the next time you feel overwhelmed (source).