Stories > Overwhelmed? Steps to unwind and find your way through

Overwhelmed? Steps to unwind and find your way through

By Brianna White, Intrepid Counseling

If you’re feeling overwhelmed at the beginning of this new school year, you’re in good company. Back in 2018, even before the current Covid complexities, 63% of college students reported feeling overwhelming anxiety in the past year and 30% in the past two weeks (American College Health Association, 2018). For many TCKs, getting used to college is happening alongside getting used to a whole new country. Even before you start talking about the coursework, that’s a lot to deal with.

First do nothing.
Feeling stressed happens when the challenge you’re facing seems intense and you don’t know how it will all work out. To be overwhelmed is to be so stressed out that you begin to feel helpless to figure it out or make it better and start to shut down. Brene Brown who writes about
emotions distinguishes stress from overwhelm by saying, “we can function in stress, we really can’t function in overwhelm.” Since we’re not figuring it out, and we’re not getting stuff done anyway, it’s not surprising the research supports just stopping as the best course of action. Take 10 – 20 minutes to do nothing decision or productivity related – a walk, a shower, just sit and drink a cup of tea… whatever is the opposite of trying to solve the problem. You need your nervous system to settle a little to be able to think better. That is what this break is for.

Take a two breaths.
During, after, or worst case scenario instead of a longer break, stop and take a double deep breath. Short version instructions – two big sniffs and a long slow blow out of your mouth. Long version instructions – see this video. This gets rid of carbon dioxide and cues your nervous system to shift to calming you rather than ramping you up.

4D Decision making.
When there’s too much to do, we have choices to make. We can Do the task, or maybe Don’t do it. We can also Delay or Delegate.

Do: Sometimes doing one thing now that can be done right now is a relief. Proving something, even something small can change or be completed helps make the whole picture seem a little more possible.

Don’t: When you’re feeling calm enough to be realistic, check your to-do list (mental or ideally on paper) for something that you can get away without doing, or that you can afford the consequences of skipping. As a freshman, when I already knew I wanted to be a counselor, I
skipped the mandatory 2 hour career fair, and chose the fine print option, write a two page paper about your career plan. I said to myself, “I can bang that out in 45 minutes!” Regarding an assignment, ask the syllabus, “what are you going to do to me if I don’t?”

Delay: Procrastination isn’t always bad. Procrastinate with intentionality. Schedule a time in the future for something that needs to happen, but not right away. You can also delay something that might really be a don’t, but you can’t bear to officially part with it yet. Hide this type of item right at the bottom of your to do list. (By the way, this works with sentimentally precious old clothes too).

Delegate: A lot is on you all the sudden in college, but not quite everything. There are professionals nearby to help in their specialties, maybe siblings, cousins, upperclass students, even your parents, even if they are far away. It might help to make what I call a “Who for What” list of who you can go to for different kinds of help or to ask to do something for you. For example, an older sibling or parent might be willing to do the shopping-around for you for some new tech you need or get online to order your books for you. There’s a good chance someone’s
out there on your team who would be excited to get to support you in a tangible way. You could start by asking someone with connections to help you make your Who for What list.

When you’re busy as can be trying to figure out how to be the new-you somewhere new, it is essential to take time out to connect with people who know who you have been. Being with those who know you can be extra challenging when you’re still grieving leaving them all behind.
It costs the time to call, the effort of scheduling, the pain of facing how much you miss them, but

it’s 100% worth it to be reminded that you’re known and cared for and understood. Does this mean a phone call, a video chat, prayer time? A strategic visit to a certain place? Now that you have some ideas about how to unwind your overwhelm, get started now, by taking a while to do nothing.

The Global Nomad’s Guide to University Transition by Tina Quick



Brianna White

Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Child Mental Health Specialist
GA License #: MFT001769 ; WA License #: LF60567087
she/her/hers why do this?
Intrepid Counseling LLC
833-825-9991 (text me using the iplum app)