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Maintaining a relationship during exams

Last semester boyfriend and I broke up during the exams over something really small and idiotic. We were both so stressed and tired and put pressure on each other. It all just blew up! We got back together but I’m already really anxious about my studies and fear that I’ll stuff up our relationship in a stupid reactive way. I don’t trust myself to manage this. How do we get through this time?

Yes, managing both a relationship and exams at the same time can seem a difficult combination. However if you support each other well, then the relationship may become even stronger. Here are a few tips;

1. Work with your boyfriend to support each other’s study routines, while communicating how you each like to manager your stress levels. This can help you to figure out whether it’s possible to support each other, while also trying to manage and reduce your own stress levels.

2. Consider whether you might be better off just having some space during exams and then coming back together to celebrate when they’re over. Sometimes it’s hard for two people who are very close to support each other when they’re both going through a hard time. It might be easier to spend time with friends, or someone who isn’t so stressed.

3. Welcome and manage the stress to your advantage. Be aware that in order to give a good academic performance a certain amount of stress can be helpful. However, too much stress will tip you over into being reactive. Read here, here and here for some helpful tips on how to manage stress during this time.

4. Set aside a weekly time to meet and debrief, but have no expectations it will be a fabulous date. Just listen to each other, be supportive, and get regular sleep.

5. Agree ahead of time not to have a deep and meaningful “about the relationship” until one full week after you have both finished exams and handed in every assignment. Get some sleep; recover your sense of humour; get perspective; etc. If you MUST talk about your relationship then consult a close friend or family member first.


Is it worth it all, this studying?

My mother is working very hard to support me. I feel guilty because her business is not going well and she is tired and stressed. I could get a job to help cover my living expenses but it is hard to study and work. I am worried about whether I will be able to get a good job when I graduate, to one day take care of my mother financially. Is it worth it for me to spend so much money to study here?

This is a common and difficult dilemma you face. Many parents make sacrifices to support their children in study and it is understandable that you care about your mother. It sounds like you are juggling many competing demands and seem to be feeling a little overwhelmed by your situation. I wonder if you have tried to discuss your feelings with your mother. Often students don’t want to worry their parents more by sharing the pressure they feel. However, it can be helpful to have an open discussion about this and get her perspective on the situation as well.

It is wise to carefully decide if you can manage paid work as well as study. Sometimes when students take on too much paid work it impacts on their academic work. However, studying part-time may be a good compromise. These sorts of decisions can be difficult to make, so read here for some tips. A good start may to be first consider all of your options, then to list the pros and cons of each. There is usually no perfect option, but considering what your values are can also help to guide you.

The question about whether studying at all is worth all the sacrifices is a difficult one to answer, as it depends on what your priorities are, as well as the pros and cons which may be different for everyone. It may be helpful to do some research into what your options will be after your finish studying, so that you can better answer this question.

Whatever decision you make, it’s natural to worry about the future when we can’t know exactly how things will turn out. Managing worry about the future is a valuable skill that will help you to manage your study as well as your future work life. Mindfulness is a practice that can help here. You can also find some tips on stress management stress management here.

Study is one way of investing in yourself and your future opportunities, but so is taking care of your emotional well-being. You might like to come to Counselling and Psychological Services so you can better understand how to manage your situation and take care of yourself as well.


I’ve fallen in love, now what?

I’ve never had a long-term relationship but over the past week I’ve started hanging out with a guy who I met through my book club. But now it’s a period of anxiety where I’m trying to be my authentic self but also, put my best foot forward and not come off as too strong. How do I not mess it up?

The early part of a relationship where there is both possibility and uncertainty about the future can be exciting and terrifying and wonderful and awful! These feelings are a normal experience whenever you have strong feelings for someone and are to be embraced as unfortunately it’s not possible to ‘skip ahead’. There also isn’t any specific advice I can give you that will ensure you don’t ‘mess it up’. Sometimes things don’t work without it being anyone’s fault, such as when two people just want different things or are not compatible.

Being your authentic self is important, as ultimately if the two of you are honest and open about who you are, what you want, and how you feel, then you will be able to figure out if this is right for both of you. This requires being vulnerable however, which is often very scary. It’s difficult to define what ‘too strong’ means, as this will be different for everyone. If your feelings are stronger than his than that doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with how you are coming across, just that the two of you are not in the same place. This is painful, but it’s important not to blame yourself.

You mention that you’ve been hanging out for the past week, which means there is still a lot more for the two of you to discover about each other. Try not to focus just on how you are coming across and what he wants, but also continue to recognize what it is that you need and want in a relationship.

Remember to also ensure you are engaging in other areas of your life that are important to you and who you are. Spending time with good friends, studying hard, looking after yourself and doing things you enjoy will help to increase your resilience and emotional wellbeing during this time. Remember that this period of anxiety doesn’t last forever, try to enjoy the fun parts and look after yourself when it gets tough.


Loneliness

This year has been really tough for me mentally and I experience waves of sadness from time to time. But past few weeks have been worse. My parents came from an environment where mental health discussions are still taboo and my boyfriend is on exchange. I don’t feel comfortable sharing this with my friend because they seemed to be disinterested and dealing with their own stresses. I am feeling so lonely. What should I do?

Thanks for your question, I’m really glad you took the time to post this. University life can certainly come with its challenges and sadness and loneliness can emerge at any time for students for a range of reasons, so you’re not alone. It’s great that you’ve been able to identify a change in your feelings, I wonder if anything has happened to bring about this change?

Loneliness can be a sign that some important emotional needs are not being met, such as feeling a lack of connection with others, and opportunities to share feelings and important experiences with someone.

While it can be difficult opening to others about the challenges we are facing, sharing your experiences with someone you trust can significantly ease the feelings of loneliness. Others may not be able to resolve your problem, but they can offer their presence, emotional validation and support. I know you said your friends seem to be disinterested or dealing with their own stressors, and your boyfriend is on exchange, but I wonder what would happen if you told them how you were feeling? Often, if others are unaware of how we are feeling, they will not know what it is that we need from them.

Of course, at first this can feel uncomfortable or intimidating if we are not used to discussing these kinds of topics, however there are ways to help this. This includes increasing the frequency of contact we have with somebody, sharing an activity or experience together which opens new avenues for conversation, interacting with others in new contexts, and talking about deeper topics and emotions with them instead of superficial topics.

Saneforums is a great place for individuals to discuss any mental health challenges in a safe, supportive and non-judgemental environment. SANE forums are anonymous and free to access and are moderated 24/7 by trained professionals. These forums are also a great way to connect with others, ask questions and seek advice.
• ReachOut have some great suggestions on what to do if you’re feeling lonely.
• UOM has lots of great clubs and societies running across the campus. Getting involved in ones that interest you is a great way to connect with others, make new friends and help regain a sense of connectedness to university life.
• UOM Counselling and Psychological Services run workshops on creating social connections each semester, check out our website for information.
• Or, if you’d like to talk to someone face-to-face about this in a confidential setting, feel free to make an appointment at Counselling and Psychological Services.


How to help my friend with depression?

I have a friend, he is also a Unimelb student. Recently, he is very seldom to talk with anyone because of working on assignment. However, actually this assignment have been already due two weeks! I am so worry about him. I think he can apply a special consideration and contact with university for seeking help.

Thanks for your question, it’s great that you’ve noticed there is an issue with your friend and want to help. Changes in academic performance can be one of the many signs of depression, however this alone does not necessarily mean your friend is suffering from depression. Many students withdraw from friends while they are experiencing stress or a high study load, and an overdue assignment may be due to issues with time management, procrastination, or other practical obstacles. A first step would be to talk to your friend about how he is feeling.

You can start by mentioning why you are worried, then ask if there is an issue you can help with. An example may be “I’ve noticed you haven’t been talking much and your assignment is overdue. Is there anything going on?” If your friend is experiencing depressed moods, there are a number of resources both for him, and for you to help support him.

If your friend meets the criteria for special consideration, he may be able to apply using supporting documentation from a health professional who has prior knowledge of his circumstances. Counselling help is also available for University of Melbourne students at Counselling and Psychological Services.


Speech issues in social settings

Despite feeling like a friendly and reasonably sociable person, when I go to talk to someone new or even someone I know decently well 9/10 times I just turn into a muttering mess who can’t articulate what I want to say. This only really happens in social settings and in professional settings I am usually okay. Even though this has affected me for quite a few years now, in a new place with new people all around me it is especially frustrating.

Thanks for your question. It can feel frustrating when something is getting in the way of you being yourself and forming the friendships you want. The symptoms you describe are commonly associated with social anxiety, so I’m wondering if you are experiencing any anxiety or self-consciousness in these social settings? Social anxiety is a very common experience, and affects everyone to some degree, but in some cases can have a bigger impact on behavior (E.g., some people may avoid social situations altogether or change how they behave and express themselves to attract less attention).

If it’s not happening around people in professional settings, it may be that when an environment is purely social, you are focusing so much on how other people are perceiving you, and the possibility of being perceived in a negative way, that you find it hard to respond to them naturally. The more pressure we feel to act and be perceived in particular way or to make a new friend, the harder it can be!

You can find more about social anxiety here, and get some strategies to manage it here. If you’d like to speak to someone one-on-one to discuss this in more depth, counselling appointments are available at Counselling and Psychological Services, or The University of Melbourne Psychology Clinic.


What is emotional neglect?

For the first month of our relationship, my boyfriend and I were really close and were texting each other almost every day, even if just for a little bit. Then my boyfriend spent significant amounts of his time and mental energy supporting his troubled coworker. He started cancelling plans, I don’t hear from him now for anywhere between two to four days, yet had been spending time with other friends of his over that period of silence.

I can’t tell whether or not I’m actually being emotionally neglected or if I’m just being selfish and not showing enough sympathy for him and his coworker. In truth, I haven’t even told him about how much all of this has been hurting me yet because I’m trying to be supportive. So, yeah, what is emotional neglect and how do you know when to look for it?

Emotional neglect is the failure to provide reasonable emotional support for another person within a relationship. This can be subjective however, as different people will have different ideas of what is reasonable or normal within a relationship and will also have different emotional needs.

It’s normal for things such as quality time and physical affection to fluctuate over the course of a relationship, particularly as outside influences such as stress or external demands can affect someone’s ability to be present and supportive. However, it is still important that your needs are respected and taken into consideration, and that overall you feel supported and cared for.

You mention that you haven’t communicated your concerns to your partner, so it may be that he is unaware of how this affecting you. Even if it’s not possible for him to be around as much as you would like at the moment, how well your partner listens to what concerns you have, respects your feelings, and then takes your needs into consideration will give you important information about the relationship.

If you and your partner have different ideas of what is reasonable in a relationship, for example, how much time is spent together, how much physical affection there is etc., then this is important to discuss so that you can both find a way to meet each other’s needs, while still being realistic about the pressures of every day life that sometimes get in the way.


Is it ADHD?

I am concerned that my poor study habits, time management, distractibility and inability to maintain attention or retain information is caused by ADHD but I am just not sure what to do, and what resources I can access? What are the actual symptoms of it?

Hi, thanks for your question. The issues you describe can be very common, particularly in university students, but in some cases can be symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Regardless of what is causing these issues, struggling with time management and concentration can be distressing and often impacts on academic performance so it’s a good idea to find out what is behind it so it can be addressed.

ADHD is a neuropsychiatric normally diagnosed in young children. It involves a heightened amount of connectivity in the front of the brain, which can lead to disorganization, impulsivity, hyperactivity and intermittent swings between poor and hyper-concentration. This condition also typically involves being sensitive to things such as to noise, touch and movement. You can find some information and resources here. ADHD needs to be diagnosed by a psychologist or psychiatrist with an assessment. You can do an initial self-test here.

Another option would be to attempt to alter some of your study habits in some small way and see if that makes a difference. Academic Services run workshops on study skills which can help with this. Sometimes anxiety, stress, high workloads, or external factors can also impact on memory, motivation, focus and attention. If you think this may be an issue then consider making an appointment with a Counsellor at Counselling and Psychological Services (CAPS).


Feeling frightened after a breakup

My ex-boyfriend forced me to accept some uncommon sexual views and touched my body disrespectful in public that led me uncomfortable and disgusting. And he tried to persuade me to follow his uncommon sexual actions by using numerous dirty talk with extremely high frequency. In this Easter we broken up, but now I still feel uncomfortable and frightened. Because he know my course schedule and home address and he used to cry in the lobby of my apartment.

It’s important that you always feel safe and respected in a relationship, regardless of any differences in views that the two of you may have. Healthy relationships involve caring for each other and respecting the other person’s right to say no. It’s understandable that you are feeling uncomfortable and frightened, as it sounds like your feelings about these sexual views were not respected and you were forced to engage in unwanted sexual behaviours during the relationship. This is not your fault.

Even after a relationship has ended, it’s normal to still feel uncomfortable or distressed about this behaviour, especially as the break up was recent. It can be helpful to talk about this to someone you can open up to, such as friends, family, or one of the counsellors at Counselling and Psychological Services. If you would prefer to speak to someone anonymously, you can also contact 1800Respect via their phone helpline (1800737732) or online chat.

It’s important that you feel safe both during a relationship as well as when it has ended. If you are not feeling safe in your home or on campus due to your ex-boyfriend’s behaviour, then it’s a good idea to talk to someone about what steps you can take to look after yourself. A first step can be speaking to Safer Community. You can book an appointment to talk about this issue and find out what your options are and what steps you can take.


How Do I Feel Happy Being Gay?

I’ve been out for 10 years now and have helped numerous people over that period find their niche, but I still don’t feel like I have found mine. I actually feel like at home I’m ‘too gay’ and then with my friends, most of whom are straight, I am ‘not gay enough.’ I don’t fit any of the stereotypes which I initially thought is a good thing, but, whenever I am forced to watch Queer Eye or RuPaul I feel like it’s not me, and that everyone around me is kind of disappointed that I’m not that kind of person. I think this has also prevented me from ever having a boyfriend or successfully dating. I’m proud of who I am, but I feel like the community to which I so badly want to be a part, reject me.

Although you mention that you are proud of your identity as a gay person, it sounds as though you are struggling with self-acceptance which may be stopping you from fully embracing your sexuality and pursuing meaningful intimate relationships. Sometimes we can become stuck in narratives, labels or expectations of who we ‘should be’ (such as ‘too gay’ or ‘not gay enough’). We can lose touch with who we actually are, which prevents us from embracing and nurturing our true sense of self. It can be very tiring to keep up with social expectations of how we ought to be, and I wonder if you would feel less pressure if you could learn to ‘let go’ of those expectations and labels, and just ‘be’ with yourself. I’m wondering what tells you that others think you are ‘too gay’ or ‘not gay enough?’ Is this something that has been said or shown in their behaviour? Or is this something that you worry about yourself through comparing yourself with common stereotypes?

You mention helping others with their coming out experiences over the years, which tells me that you an empathic, compassionate person who people turn to for support. It also might suggest that you put pressure on yourself to have already ‘figured things out’ as you have been ‘out’ for some time. However, sexuality is a lifelong journey, of which coming out is just one part. It’s ok to not have all the answers, to fluctuate in your feelings, to change and to grow. Sometimes it can be helpful to imagine a friend coming to you with a similar issue to the one you are facing. How would you respond? Try approaching yourself as you would a dear friend, with acceptance, compassion and love.

Another way of developing awareness of unhelpful expectations and fostering acceptance is to develop a mindfulness practice, which involves paying attention to the present moment, on purpose and without judgement. Many people who practice mindfulness find that, over time and with regular practice, they can develop a more compassionate and accepting relationship to their thoughts and emotions, therefore becoming less stuck in unhelpful thoughts and narratives. There are many mindfulness resources and apps out there – you might like to try Smiling Mind, Headspace or 1 Giant Mind.

If you feel like you would like to discuss your concerns in more depth with a counsellor, our website lists a range of available resources for LGBTQI+ counselling. We also have a LGBTQI+ counsellor at University of Melbourne Counselling and Psychological Services.


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