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Have I wasted my time?

I feel like I have wasted the last three years studying a degree that I didn’t enjoy. At the same time, I have no idea what I would want to do instead, and find myself confused and anxious about my whole life. I have been accepted into a Masters program so I’m obviously competent, but the thought of continuing study in the same field depresses me. What’s your advice?

Good question! It’s great that you’re taking some time to ask for help, as it sounds like you’re experiencing doubts about your course and where your life is going. This can be a very common worry for students. What to do depends in part on why you didn’t enjoy the degree. Is it because you are not interested in the topic or have realised you don’t want to work in that field? Or is it due to the way the course was run? No matter how interesting the area, sometimes study can be onerous. Finding out a bit more about what a typical job in your field would actually be like can be helpful, as it may be a lot more enjoyable than the experience of studying it.

If it’s because you don’t want to continue in this area at all, don’t panic. People often feel pressure to know exactly what they want to do with their career, or that they must find their ‘calling’ early on. It often takes a period of trial and error to find the area or role that suits you best, and even then it may not be perfect. It’s worthwhile taking some time to figure out what your values are, what is meaningful for you in general, and what makes you happy.

I imagine you’ve gained a lot of useful experience and knowledge in the past three years, so try not to discount it all as wasted time. If you do want to continue with your degree, it’s important to find ways to manage the effect study can have on your mood. It’s easy to forget that study and work is not your whole life, so if you’re feeling this way, try to focus more on other areas that bring you joy. When you have free time, doing something new and fun, and spending time with people you love will remind you that your life is about much more than a degree!


Dreading going home for Christmas

Every time I go home I feel bad. After being away from home for so long, I feel confident, have good friends and am working at doing well in studies. My parents don’t see that, they find out what’s wrong and make it worse. My brother does not seem to care and sister barely speaks. I just used to feel bad and say things I regretted, then take months to find myself after Christmas, is it worth it?

Christmas and family gatherings can be tricky for many of us. That becomes more difficult if your parents highlight negatives when you would like them to appreciate how well you are doing. Because of the emotional bond and the significant history between you, what they say can hurt even if you know it is unreasonable.

What about not going home? Can you find a reasonable excuse? Remembering that as an adult you can make this choice for yourself. Just consider how you will manage your feelings and how you will manage the possible reactions of family members?

The alternative is to look at how to get through the time with them. Here are some ideas:

– Work out in advance exactly how long you will spend there and communicate this early.

– Manage your emotions actively, take time out, go for a walk, call a friend or any other practical idea you can think of (make a list before you go home). Staying in touch with good friends while away can be a good reminder of who you are away from your family.

– Make sure you spend a good deal of time alone, reading or listening to music, or out of the house going for a walk or swim. This will balance some of the uncomfortable social times

– Observe how your siblings appear to manage, they may have developed some useful strategies that you can adopt. Try to engage with your siblings on something you have in common, or an enjoyable way to pass the time (movies, games etc.)

– Think out some ways in advance that you can respond to your parents’ criticism, as emotions often take over in the moment, making it hard to respond calmly and clearly. Being clear about what your boundaries are is important. You don’t have to accept hurtful behaviour, even from family.


How can I fall asleep easier?

It takes me hours to fall asleep. I start thinking about work and study and just about everything else under the sun. Sometimes I wake up in the night and the same thing happens when I try to fall asleep. As a result, I get out of bed feeling exhausted or sleep really late. How do I improve my sleep?

Thanks for writing in; getting a good night’s sleep is difficult for many people and falling asleep can be particularly difficult if you are stressed or worrying about something that is going on in your life.

From what you have written there may be at least two things to consider that may help you. The first is what is referred to as sleep hygiene. Sleep hygiene simply means putting in place a few habits and environmental changes that help you get a good night’s sleep. These include things such as slowing down your mind and body before you go to bed with relaxing activities and getting enough physical activity and eating well through the day, as well as ensuring your sleep environment is optimal.

The second thing to consider is the disruptive thinking that you have experienced while trying to fall asleep. Thinking about everything that needs to be done or difficult situations that have occurred can trigger anxiety, or at the very least, result in physiological arousal. This can take our bodies out of the relaxed state necessary for sleep. Good stress management techniques can help, including worry scheduling and guided breathing exercises. It may also be helpful to book an appointment with a counsellor at Counselling and Psychological Services to talk through what is bothering you and address these concerns during the day.


I can’t finish my PhD

After 6 years I still can’t finish my PhD. I worked very well for the first 3 years and was writing up when I had to stop for nearly a year due to a major illness. After getting back to writing last year I wrote more than 80 percent of it in 6 months and my supervisor and I both thought I would be finished by November or December at the latest. I am dismayed that I still have yet to finish. Help!

Many postgraduate students encounter obstacles along their “thesis journey”. Your experience of a major illness has certainly been a huge factor in prolonging the journey in both practical and emotional ways. I’m wondering if you’ve been able to identify any particular obstacles to the writing process, for example, anxiety and stress leading to procrastination, uncertainty over the best way to proceed, perfectionism leading to ‘writers block’, or sometimes monotony and lack of variety in day to day life can lead to loss of motivation and difficulty concentrating. If you can identify a specific problem it can make it easier to address.

It may be helpful to think about “completing” as a challenging task in itself. It is a task that requires clear delineation, time management, and specific practical and personal skills. It is a task for which many Phd candidates call in extra assistance. Who could assist you with the editing skills, the objectivity and the critical judgement required at this time? Consider the services of the Academic Skills Unit and the Graduate Research Hub.

“Letting go” of the thesis may also be a critical emotional step for you, as it has been a companion throughout your illness, and has given you both a routine, and an investment in your “future self”. Acknowledging your life investment in your thesis may be an important initial step in moving away from it. Consider this completion task as a “transition process” to new opportunities, new routines, and a renewed sense of self. Perhaps a discussion with a close friend or a counsellor at Counselling and Psychological Services could provide the space to reflect more on what is stopping you and what kind of support you need to move forward.


How to have more confidence?

In many contexts I feel like I lack self-esteem and self-confidence. Whenever anyone asks me for my notes, I always say yes even though I really don’t want to give it to them – I just don’t want to upset them. My parents are bitterly divorced, but I always nod and agree with them whenever they badmouth the other parent, even though I really would like to tell them how sad it makes me feel when they do that. Any tips on how I can be more assertive and confident in these circumstances?

We draw on a range of sources to feel OK about ourselves, and it’s easy to become too reliant on the reassurance and acceptance of those around you. Perhaps there is a growing gap between what you want inside and what you want to stand for, as well as how you express yourself in your relationships with others. It can be helpful to identify what it is that you are avoiding by saying “no” or expressing your real opinions. Asserting oneself may lead to conflict and uncomfortable discussions, or possible rejection by the other person (parent or friend). While we do need some validation and reassurance from those close to us, it is possible that you end up always acting in accord with what they “seem” to want and they never see the real you. They may actually love and respect the real you, if you asserted yourself. Right now they may not be seeing much of the real you.

Another major source of esteem and wellbeing is internal, from feeling that you are acting and speaking in a manner which is aligned with your values. What has been your experience doing that, and how has it affected your feelings of self-esteem and confidence? It sounds like you have a clear sense of what some of those values are and what actions or words they may lead to. This is a vital and ongoing journey that is difficult for everyone. It sounds like it would be helpful to discuss this further in individual counselling. Counselling and Psychological Services (CAPS) also regularly offers workshops on topics such as assertive communication.


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.


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