Stress, feeling overwhelmed, inability to study what can we do?

Some students get so stressed to the point that they can’t study for days, sometimes even weeks. Where does this come from and what can we do about it?  

‘I was very excited when I first came here. I had a lot of friends in Groningen who had explained to me how life was like in the city and what I could expect. So, I had some expectations; and I was prepared. But I ran into some trouble. It all started in the third block. For two weeks in a row, I didn’t do a lot. I just didn’t feel like working. This didn’t mean that I wasn’t motivated; I really wanted to study and work for the project, but I just couldn’t,’ says Zornitsa, a first-year International Communication student.

Unfortunately, Zornitsa is not the only Hanze student who faces this kind of problem. ‘We don’t really get a lot of emails or requests from students saying: I don’t have the motivation,’ notes student counsellor Susan Veldstra. ‘No, it’s more like: I feel very stressed and don’t know what to do. Can we please meet?

It’s always at the end of the block, you have deadlines and exams at the same time

What is the cause of this kind of stress and the feelings that accompany it? For Mara, a German first-year student, the cause is deadlines. ‘It’s always at the end of the block, because then, you have deadlines and exams at the same time. I think that the first time it happened was at the end of the first block. Then, somewhere in the middle of the second block, I was like: ‘Oh, I’m not sure, if I’m going to finish this because it’s a lot…’ since then, I feel like it’s repeating every block. In the middle or at the end of the block, the anxiety re-emerges: ‘Oh, I think that I’m not going to make it.’

Finding the source of the student’s feelings of discomfort is important, says Fiona van Gelder, a student counsellor coordinator for the School of Communication, Media and IT: ‘I think it’s important to find out if it’s about the study program or about personal factors, which can play a role.’

I want them to focus on the things that do motivate them

When students get so stressed but don’t have any personal issues and only struggles with the study itself, the student counsellor might use a different approach: ‘I always ask them what they like about the study program,’ says van Gelder. ‘I want them to focus on the things that do motivate them. I also ask them: What motivates you? What do you like? And I advise them to focus on and work more on these things. So basically, to focus on the positive.’
Gelder asks a lot of questions to encourage students to act: How do you motivate yourself? Do you remember something that you really enjoyed before? Why did you enjoy it so much? Is it because you were working with others? Because you did really well? Or because you had a nice teacher or a friend? ‘I think it helps to stay away from the negative. And I think that in a lot of cases, it’s probably also about having the confidence.’

Talk to your friends, they often struggle with the same problems 

Mara has her own recipe: ‘For me, it’s talking to my friends who are studying in Germany and in different cities. We have weekly calls and I always know that when I’m struggling, I can just ask them how their study life is going. They also really like their study programs, but they’re struggling too. So, it’s helpful to talk to them. It’s what I would advise to others: talk to your friends, because usually, they’re struggling with the same problems you’re facing. Then, you know that you’re not alone. You can even motivate each other.’

Zornitsa thinks time might be the answer. Time where you don’t think about deadlines or progress, time to spend with your friends, time for your hobbies, or even time for just watching a movie or taking a stroll, time where students don’t get so stressed. ‘Don’t worry that much. Just take time for yourself. For one, maybe two weeks, don’t pressure yourself with the huge amount of things that you have to do. It never gets better that way.’