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Counselling and Psychological Services

Coping with children, relationships, study and failure

I am a mother of two, going through a hard time with my spouse. I failed one subject and on top of that I have a sanction from my placement about my progress. Please help.

It can be very challenging managing the needs of children, relationships, work and finances with the demands of tertiary study, not to mention during a global pandemic! It sounds like this is a difficult time for you. Many students struggle along for a while trying to deal with study as well as personal matters, and often it’s not until they fail a subject that they realise they may need some more support. Things often seem overwhelming and hopeless at this point, but with help it is possible to move forward.

I wonder if as a consequence of the failure of a subject and a school “sanction”, you have received a letter about unsatisfactory progress. If you have, don’t panic. This is a process designed to work out what the best options are for you to continue your study, such as extra help or a reduced study load. Information about this process can be found here.

When you are having a hard time with your studies it’s important to address in what ways they are being impacted. For example, are you having trouble concentrating due to worries about your relationship? Is it hard to find the time to devote to your placement or to figure out the best way to approach your assignments? Are your motivation levels low due to fatigue or difficult emotions? Once identified, make sure you are taking advantage of whatever help and support is available to you.

Do you have friends or family in your life who are supportive? Do you have access to relationship counselling to address issues with your spouse? Academic Skills can provide help with study skills, and if you’d like to speak to someone one-on-one about these issues, counselling at Counselling and Psychological Services (CAPS) is free of charge, completely confidential and counsellors are experienced in helping students manage similar situations to that which you describe. You also have access to workshops/webinars on a range of both study related and wellbeing topics.

Lost motivation for studies

I’m not motivated. It’s not that I hate university but I just can’t get into my studies. How do I get motivated once again?

There are lots of reasons why you might not be motivated. It is a very common cause of concern for students from time to time, and more so for students who are affected by lockdowns and studying from home. Motivation can also be more of an issue towards the end of semester when fatigue starts to set in.

(1) Dedicate both time and effort towards establishing a study routine. This can be harder to achieve from home, so try where possible to ensure there are separate times and places for study and enjoyment/relaxation. Getting up and moving around regularly in between classes, lectures or when you are switching between tasks can help.

(2) Are you finding the work really difficult? It can be helpful to identify whether you are feeling stressed or anxious about your assessments, which can lead to avoidance, or perhaps you would benefit from changing up your style of studying. Academic Skills can provide tips on effective study techniques. Counselling and Psychological Services also regularly run webinars on topics to enhance your learning.

(3) Are you questioning whether you are in the right course for you? Getting some advice on your course or career pathway may help, as reconnecting with your original goals and being clear on how to achieve them can also increase motivation.

(4) Feeling physical or mentally tired can also impact your ability to stay motivated. Think about what can increase your energy levels, such as a sleep routine to improve the quality of your sleep, more regular exercise, fresh air and natural light. Also pay attention to how you are spending your free time when not studying, and how this makes you feel, as some activities may boost your wellbeing and energy levels, whereas others may be more draining.

I don’t know if universiy is for me.

I am really struggling and I feel like the level of work at university is beyond my abilities. I never feel completely on top of things and able to do the work. I’m not sure whether or not I should continue my studies.

Hello! Thank you for asking this question as I suspect many people could relate to this. University studies can be really overwhelming and difficult, especially during a global pandemic. It is not uncommon for students to second-guess their abilities when attempting to meet these increased academic demands. I would encourage you to make an appointment with STOP 1 to discuss your current work load and explore practical steps to manage your existing study load. Academic Skills also has tips on managing time and studying effectively, as sometimes small changes can make a big difference.

In these situations, people often find themselves stuck in a loop- feeling unable to live up to their expected standards, leading to feelings like guilt, frustration, and shame. This in turn, adds to their anxieties and perpetuates the cycle of feeling not good enough. We often are our own harshest critics and find ourselves in this self-critical trap. It can be physically and emotionally draining to feel this way. In such scenarios, it is helpful to take a step back and examine what those standards are and how realistic they might be. Treating yourself with the same kindness you extend to your close friends, practicing self-compassion and mindfulness can be productive ways to slowly break the self-critical cycle.

Another useful resource could be the webinars at Counselling and Psychological Services that cover topics like staying motivated during the lockdown, managing anxiety, and practicing self-compassion. You can also try some relaxation and breathing exercises along with COVID-19 specific resources.

Working and Studying at Home

At home during lockdown, I have grown more frustrated with myself as I try to get things done, but always end up not just doing less, but also feeling tired. Additionally, I feel that I cannot keep up with anyone (not just academic wise), and that I am always short of time. I feel that I must always be doing something, as I get nervous about deadlines, and feel frustrated with myself when I am not. However, tasks seem to drag on longer than they should, and I feel tense most of the time. What can I do to make things go more smoothly?

I’m glad to see this question as many people can relate to this. Lockdowns have been particularly hard for people and brought with them a whole range of overwhelming and confronting emotions. While there is a sense of comfort to know it is a shared experience, these feelings of frustration and anxiety can be emotionally and physically draining. However, your high level of insight is a real strength and can facilitate you in taking practical steps to navigate these challenging times.

Anxiety can often feel like you’re perpetually on a deadline and struggling to keep up. The social isolation and lack of routine that comes with these lockdowns can certainly make matters worse. Keep in mind that meeting deadlines and staying productive is not just about how much time you have to complete tasks, but how much energy and motivation you have as well. Increasing your energy and motivation involves making time for pleasurable activities, staying engaged and connected with others, and getting some fresh air and moving your body. It may be useful to have some structure around your day and intentionally make time for pleasurable activities. There is evidence to suggest routines can help reduce anxiety, stress and manage insomnia. Creating a schedule to do chores, study, relax, and exercise can help you take stock of your day, and you may notice that having more variety and enjoyment in your schedule actually makes you more efficient and productive.

Additionally, people also benefit from setting time aside to specifically worry and consider things that are making them anxious, nervous, or stressed. It’s normal to worry and stress, especially given the added pressures of a lockdown, but ideally we want to make sure our worries lead to helpful problem solving, and that they are not getting in the way of work or relaxation. It can be worthwhile to experiment with worry scheduling and being mindful of the time you set aside for it.

In a vulnerable state, people often underestimate their coping abilities and overestimate how well people around them are doing. This can in turn lead to a loss of motivation and a tendency to procrastinate. A good place to start tackling these difficulties can be the webinars at Counselling and Psychological Services that cover topics like staying motivated during the lockdown, managing anxiety, and practicing self-compassion. You can also try some relaxation and breathing guided exercises along with COVID-19 specific resources. Additionally, if you are feeling overwhelmed with academic content, it might be worthwhile to speak check the resources available at Academic Skills.

Anxiety due to first semester

I am international student and this semester is my first semester. My anxiety and perplexity increased after first week. My classmates seems like well-prepared for every subject, things that easy for them are difficult for me. Is this situation common for first semester? I want to know what will happen if I fail all the subjects in this semester. Will I be suspended from university? Or I just need to reenroll the same subject again?

The first semester of uni can be a really daunting time as you adjust to new academic expectations and, as an international student, a new culture. This is particularly challenging at the moment when most of us have heightened anxiety due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the fears and uncertainty that come with that. It is very common for people to go through a range of emotions as they adjust to university, such as increased anxiety and low self-confidence, however this usually subsides once we get use to our new environment and the expectations of our course. It can also take a while to adjust to new styles of teaching and assessments, and to figure out how best to prepare and manage our time. Counselling and Psychological Services regularly run workshops and webinars that address these topics, you can find out more about them here.

It’s normal to feel like everyone else has a much better grip on what is required and often we feel like everyone else is a lot more confident and smarter than we are. It is important to remember however that you got into your course based on merit and you too are capable of doing well. If you are struggling with the academic content I would strongly encourage you to speak to your tutors and lecturers, check out the support and resources available at Academic Skills.

Often students feel ashamed about needing to seek academic support but it is very normal for people to require additional support with difficult subjects and most students need it at some point in their course. Your teaching staff want to support you and help you do as well as you can! Many students also find it helpful to arrange study groups with other students in their classes as this can also provide good academic support. Ask others in your class if they would be interested in doing this and you are likely to find others who are keen to do so.

Studying a university degree is extremely challenging, and sometimes capable students will fail one or multiple subjects for a variety of reasons. If you are worried about failing your subjects, it is good to be informed about what might happen next. You can find out some more information here, or you can contact Stop 1 for further advice.

Referral request

Hi, I have come to counselling sessions offered at unimelb in the past, while they were good, I think I would prefer to start to see a psychologist more long term. At the time, my counsellor suggested I go on a mental health plan but it was not something I followed up about. Is it too late to ask for help with this?

Hello, no it’s not too late at all! It’s great if you feel like you’re ready to access some ongoing counselling sessions. This is something you can do at any time.

In order to get a mental health treatment plan (MHTP), you will first need to see a GP. If you don’t have one already, the University of Melbourne Health Service is available. When you book an appointment, let them know that you want to discuss a referral to a psychologist, as they may prefer you to book a longer appointment to give enough time to gather information. At the appointment, they will ask you some questions about yourself and what has been going on for you so they can complete the MHTP.

The next step is finding a psychologist and booking an appointment. There are multiple ways to find a psychologist. Your GP may recommend one to you and refer you directly. Or you may get a recommendation from someone you trust. The Australian Psychological Society also has a Find a Psychologist Service which can help. If you’d like some more support finding someone, feel free to book another appointment at Counselling and Psychological Services as our counsellors are happy to help.

Thanks for asking this question, it’s never too late to ask for help!

Studies “at risk” what do I do?

This is my first year at uni and I’ve been dealing with a lot of personal issues at home. Although I’ve attended class, I failed to submit several pieces of work during the year and am now facing a meeting with the CAPC. I’m feeling really anxious and overwhelmed, and quite frankly don’t know where to start and what to do

Thanks for your question. The first year of university study can be challenging– adapting to a new style of learning that is more autonomous and self-directed than high school, familiarising yourself to new classes and people, to name a few challenges. Starting university when many classes are online can add to these challenges, and having personal issues at home adds a further degree of stress to the mix. It’s not uncommon for students in first year to fail some subjects as they adapt and adjust amidst the transition to university. The thought of meeting a Course Academic Progress Committee (CAPC) can be daunting and frightening.

Some information can help manage anxiety – finding out what to expect of the CUPC, and what are the range of recommendations it can make, would be helpful – see here. It’s important to remember that the committee aims to support you in order to help you succeed with your studies. The committee will want to know what you can do differently to make the next semester of study more successful, and ensure you know how to connect with support services such as Academic Skills Unit and Counselling and Psychological Services (CAPS). You can seek advice about how best to prepare for CAPC from University of Melbourne Student Union (UMSU).

You can find support and help with personal and study issues here at CAPS through free and confidential counselling. Even if the issues at home are things you cannot directly control, counselling can help you explore how you can best deal with the difficulties and take care of yourself. You might also benefit from talking to a supportive friend or family member.

When to seek help?

I have had problems with anxiety all through my degree and I managed to live through it, headaches and chest pains and all. But I am often miserable and in a lot of emotional pain. Because I can function normally I feel bad for seeking out professional counselling—even for writing this question. When should I seek help? Or is it better to pursue relaxation techniques at home?

Thanks for your question, it sounds like your anxiety has negatively impacted your emotional wellbeing a great deal, and that you have been battling with a number of unpleasant physical symptoms for some time now. I think your question highlights a very important issue for people considering whether or not they should seek professional help. It is important to remember that people seek professional help for a variety of mental health difficulties of varying severity, all of which are equally valid concerns.

There is no particular criteria you have to meet to access professional support, in fact, sometimes it’s better to seek help before things get too severe. Even if you are still functioning well and meeting the demands of your life, if anxiety is taking a toll on your emotional wellbeing then it is important to seek help. Working with a professional may help you gain another perspective on the anxiety you experience and why it may be occurring. Ultimately you may be able to learn not just how to cope with your anxieties, but how to move beyond them toward living a more enjoyable life.

I want to re-assure you that professional help is safe-guarded by high standards of privacy and confidentiality. There is nothing wrong with experimenting with relaxation techniques, but it can be helpful to do this in consultation with a health professional. You can choose to see a counsellor one-on-one at Counselling and Psychological Services. We also often run workshops on anxiety, check out our website for information and how to register.

Another option is to go through a GP at the University of Melbourne Health Service. A GP would also be able to assess your eligibility for a Mental Health Treatment Plan which allows Medicare rebates for allied mental health services (e.g., psychologists, social workers).

Anxiety affecting study

This lockdown has amplified my anxiety significantly and I’ve had regular panic attacks. I am seeing a psychologist and have also been identified with OCD tendencies that have gotten worse due to lockdown. I am finding it extremely difficult to focus or do anything, and studying is the last thing on my mind. However, with exams fast approaching I cannot ignore this and it is very much contributing to my stress. I was wondering what I could do to get through this period. Thank you.

Thanks for your most relevant question. Many people have been finding that the repeated lockdowns are increasing their stress and anxiety symptoms as well as preventing them from managing them the way they normally would. I am wondering what some of the strategies were in the past that you used to manage panic attacks and anxiety? Consider speaking to your psychologist about ways these techniques can be adjusted during lockdown. I am also wondering if there are particular aspects of lockdown that you are struggling with more than others, such as the isolation? If so, make sure you are connecting with people as much as possible within restriction policy, especially if you live alone. Try to stick to a routine, and make sure you are getting regularly outside, and letting as much natural light inside your home as possible. You might not know that the Baillieu Library at University of Melbourne is available for students who don’t have enough quiet space to study at home, and who may find it easier to concentrate when around other people in a different environment. You can book a space here.

The Counselling and Psychological Services of The University of Melbourne (CAPS) regularly run workshops/ webinars on topics such as managing anxiety, optimising focus and attention, and being effective during difficult times. For a short time, recordings of these webinars are still available and you can catch up on them here. Our website also has a number of resources for managing stress and anxiety related to Covid-19, as well as guided exercises to assist with relaxation and breathing. Check in with your psychologist about how these techniques may fit in with your current therapy, and for some extra help in implementing them. Finally, sometimes it can be helpful to change your study techniques when you are struggling to focus. Find some tips on studying effectively here.

Missing family and can’t concentrate

Hi, I am an international student and always been a family-oriented kind of person. I’m very close to them and I miss them so much. When I came here I thought I would be able to visit them on my breaks but with borders closed I haven’t been able to. I can’t concentrate in class, it’s so hard to focus! What should I do?

Thanks for your question – I know many students struggle with this same problem, and of course Covid-19 and all the adjustments this has forced has made this harder. It sounds like you’re dealing with a number of issues; homesickness, adjusting to a new country and university course, and of course all the stress that naturally comes with being a student.

In dealing with problems of concentration and focus, I would suggest you try mindfulness meditation. There is evidence that this practice can lead to a number of benefits including enhanced sustained attention. Our website has some guided exercises you might find useful. We also regularly run workshops on ‘Optimising Focus and Attention’ that teach strategies you may find useful.

While nothing can replace your family while you’re here, it’s important to consider other ways you can feel connected to people, even if it’s temporary. Isolation is an added stressor that can make other demands in your life feel harder, and we all need support. Make sure you are staying in regular contact with your family where possible, and consider ways to increase your in person contact while you’re here (and when it’s allowed!) such as joining some clubs or activities at the university or organising something social with people you’ve already met.

Finally, managing stress is an important part of being a successful and happy student, and there are a number of ways to make this easier. You can find some useful resources here. Self care is always important and involves looking after your physical health, taking time out for yourself to relax or have fun, and connecting with other people around you. Consider what activities you know help you when you are feeling stressed, and think about what supports you have here.

If you’d like to talk this over with someone one-on-one, counselling at Counselling and Psychological Services (CAPS) is free of charge, completely confidential and counsellors are experienced in helping students manage similar situations to what you describe.

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