The first week freak out

“A 4,000 word essay due in 2 weeks and an exam in less than a month. I may never emerge from the mountain of readings I will be doing in the next four weeks”

My facebook update after the first day of classes.

My first week of university I found myself overwhelmed at the amount of knowledge I had to take in and then regurgitate out again in essay form a few days later.

Even though I studied developmental psychology during my undergraduate degree so have a vague recollection of some of the big guys such as Piaget, Vygotoksy and Erikson there were still new theorists’ names to remember not to mention gaining an understanding of the theories themselves.On top of that I didn’t know how to log onto the university’s online system to access my study materials, and the package of course information had gotten lost in the post.

It was at that point I wondered if I had made the right decision to jump back into university study after so many years away.

But then I stepped back and realized that what I was feeling was completely normal. Last year I spent 6 months backpacking my way around the world. I ambled across America, waltzed around Saltzburg humming sound of music tunes, hopped a ride on the Trans-Siberian from Saint Petersburg in the west right through to Vladivostok in the east. It was wonderful. But there was major downside: just about every time I arrived in a new city I would get lost. Sometimes it would only be for a few minutes other times it would be for a few hours. One night I arrived in deepest darkest Siberia with an 18kg backpack, snow on the ground and absolutely no idea where my hostel was and no Russian skills to communicate my plight. But in every case I eventually found a place to stay and eventually found my way back home.

My first week back at university reminded me that new experiences, whether they be backpacking around the world or starting a new career, can be both exhilarating and terrifying at the same time.

1. Ask for help when you need it.

If I had continued to sit on my hands waiting for my package of information or hadn’t called the university IT department to find out how to log myself in, then I would have found myself further behind.

2. Talk to other students.

Chances are that you aren’t the only one who is overwhelmed by the new challenges. Knowing other people are having similar reactions might help you normalize your own feelings of anxiety and make them disappear.

3. Break large projects down into manageable chunks.

Initially I started off roaring through my readings but then I realized that I wasn’t retaining much information. So I broke my project down into manageable chunks and did fewer readings but made more of an effort to understand them. I also decided to get a jump start on my essay rather than leaving it until the last minute.

4. Find ways to cope with anxiety.

I still make time to go the gym and blog.

What tips would you give students to survive the first (or any subsequent) week freak out?

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