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Counselling and Psychological Services

Feeling distant

Lately I have been feeling lonely and distanced from my friends. I feel like I am not as connected as I was before. I overthink quite a lot and I’m beginning to have shortness of breath again. I always compare myself with my parents who seem well connected to their friends. I barely chat with my friends on Facebook or via phone or text message. What should I do to overcome this? Should I try reaching them out by calling them? I don’t know what I should talk to them about.

You say you are feeling lonely and distanced at times, sorry to hear that. It has been a difficult year, as many of us were in lockdown and not able to spend time with friends. Many have said that this has made them feel like friendships have drifted apart. It sounds like you have an expectation of yourself to be more social, and it is normal to want to connect with others, but everyone will have their own levels of social interaction that feels okay for them. 

You say it is difficult to connect with some of your friends individually and I am wondering what is preventing that? Is it perhaps, as you mentioned, anxiety around not knowing what to talk about on the phone, or are there other reasons as well? Social anxiety often results in us feeling more self-conscious in social situations. and can include overthinking things. This a very common experience that many of us will go through at different times in our lives, and there are many different ways to help manage this, such as breathing to help regulate your physiological response and challenging or unhooking from anxious thoughts.

In terms of connecting with friends, a great way to spend time with them is by taking part in a shared activity, as it puts less pressure on the conversation being the main focus. Perhaps you can organise a hike, see a movie, or another activity with one or a few friends? Even a walk around the garden, or cooking a new recipe together can be a way to connect. It is likely that others are also feeling a bit anxious about socialising, so reaching out to them may be a way to kick start that connection again. We often assume that others are doing much better than we are, because we compare how we feel inside with what we think is happening on the outside for someone else!

If you are considering reaching out to other people more, you may want to try to do this in gradual stages so that you don’t feel too overwhelmed. Try to be kind to yourself for at least taking small steps in the direction you wish to go.

We have several groups and webinars offered by CAPS that could help including a 3-part webinar ‘Overcoming Social Anxiety’ and webinars on unhooking from negative thinking and increasing self-compassion. I would encourage you to book in if you think it may be helpful. We can always help with a more tailored perspective in an individual session with one of our Counsellors.


Separation anxiety

I’m a first year student studying biomedicine and admittedly everything was really last minute and I ended up moving to Melbourne by myself. I think I had severe separation anxiety, I felt helpless, feeling like I couldn’t make it through the day. So after 10 days, I made it back home, but I still have to still pay my Unilodge because of my contract and my Centrelink. This anxiety is also feeding into my schoolwork, I can’t study properly and I feel like I’m not smart enough. My biggest concern right now is that I don’t know if I can go back to Melbourne in Semester 2. Should I apply to defer for a year? It gives me relief to think that if I defer I can really just sort myself out.

Sorry to hear the start to the semester this year has been so difficult.  In responding to your enquiry, I assume you intend to study from home for the rest of the semester, provided you decide not to defer from your course.  One of the problems with anxiety is that our thinking gets ahead of what is actually  happening and goes into ‘what if’ mode about the future (e.g. what if I’m not smart enough, what if I can’t cope on returning to Melbourne for semester 2 etc.).  You can become so caught up with this anxious thinking that you become overwhelmed and feel helpless to take constructive action to address your situation.  It can be helpful if you find yourself worrying about a lot of things that might happen in the future, to try bring your attention back to the present and ask what is the next concrete thing that I can actually address.  It is better to focus on the small, day to day things that need to be done, and let the future take care of itself.  This keeps you grounded in the actual concrete reality of your life.  Sometimes just making a list of the things that need to be done can be helpful to regain some sense of control if you are caught up with anxious thoughts.  Certain practices such as mindfulness meditation can be helpful in developing the skill of grounding yourself in the present.  Feeling anxious can also drain your energy, so it is important not to neglect basic self-care such as eating properly, maintaining a regular sleep routine and getting some exercise.

On some practical matters, if you need to break the contract with Unilodge for your accommodation then it might be worth contacting the UMSU legal department to get some advice in relation to that issue.  If you decide to defer, it is a good idea to think about how you intend to spend your time if you are not studying, as you need some structure and purpose in your life to maintain mental health.  Another possibility might be to consider reducing your subject load.  This is allowable in some courses, but I don’t know with Biomedicine.  If you think you would cope better just doing two or three subjects for example, then I would advise speaking to the course coordinator in Biomedicine to find out if it is possible.  It sounds like you may also need to notify Centrelink about your change of circumstances.  These types of tasks can seem like major obstacles if you are feeling anxious and overwhelmed, but if you tackle them one by one you will start to regain a sense of being in control by taking constructive action.

Finally, with respect to your anxiety, if it persists and is impeding your ability to cope, it may be helpful to make an appointment to speak to a counsellor at this service, or alternatively there is the option of seeing a private psychologist under a mental health care plan obtained from your general practitioner.  There are also some webinars provided by this service on the topic of managing anxiety.  The next webinar on anxiety starts on 15 April. CAPS also offers regular mindfulness meditation sessions by zoom conference at midday every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

I hope some of this information is helpful. Wishing you all the best for the rest of the semester.


Exam panic

I had an exam yesterday which I was well prepared for. I downloaded the question paper and then my mind went blank, I had shortness of breath, I was nervous and I couldn’t even understand the questions. I began to cry in frustration. I have attempted to get support but the earliest psychologist appointment available is next Monday. I have an exam tomorrow, I have been receiving H1’s in all my assignments and I’m worried the same thing will happen.

Thanks for reaching out and contacting us. I’m sorry you had this awful experience during your exam, it sounds like your feelings were very distressing. The exam period is a very stressful time of year, and this year it follows the added challenges we have faced with the COVID-19 restrictions.

The symptoms you describe, such as shortness of breath and difficulty concentrating, are certainly signs of heightened anxiety. Although it is normal to feel nervous or experience some level of anxiety during exam time, there may be times when your anxiety interferes with your focus and concentration. There are several practical ways to help with managing your symptoms if they become overwhelming, such as relaxation techniques and reframing your thoughts.

One of the challenges with anxiety is that our breathing gets very short and shallow, and our brain then interprets this as ‘something wrong’, which of course makes us worry more. During exams, breathing exercises can be particularly helpful for managing anxious feelings and the physiological symptoms of stress. Most people benefit from breathing exercises. The great thing about them is that it only takes a few moments and can easily be done during exams to calm you down. When you notice you are feeling worried take a couple of moments to take a deep breath in, and then a slightly longer breath out.

It might also be helpful to be aware of any unhelpful self-talk that might be occurring during an exam. For example, thoughts such as, ‘I can’t do this’, or, ‘I’m going to fail’, can increase anxiety. Try replacing these unhelpful thoughts with something more encouraging such as “everything will be OK” or “everyone in my class is in the same boat.”

CAPS has several online resources that you might find useful when experiencing stressful situations; check out Exam Anxiety or Relaxation Techniques. Some other resources you may like to use are available through CAPS Student Resources, such as the mindfulness programs or our webinars on enhancing your learning. You may also like to book a free confidential appointment with a CAPS counsellor for further help with learning about how to manage stress and anxiety. You can book online or give our friendly reception staff a call of 8344 6927.

Thanks again for reaching out. I wish you all the best.


Dealing with grief

Recently, about a month ago, I lost a very close friend of mine. Her death hit me quite hard. My parents haven’t been very kind about it, they just assumed I would “move on”. I’ve lost people before, although not like this, and the loneliness is hitting me very hard. I’m scared to express because others will think I’m too hung up about it. I’m having a hard time focusing on my lectures and classes because of this. I’m stuck between wanting to express myself, and trying not to be selfish. After all, her family must be more devastated. My question is, where do I go from here?

Thanks for getting in touch with us, I’m so sorry to hear about the recent loss of your very close friend.  Losing someone important to you is a significant life event so it’s no wonder you are feeling hit hard by this. The current lockdown exacerbates this, as the initial human response to grief is connectivity. Due to the current restrictions, we are unable to connect in the ways we usually do.

Everyone’s reaction to losing someone is unique, and there are no right or wrong ways to react. It is normal and understandable that you might be feeling a range of different emotions like shock, sadness, loneliness, overwhelmed, numbness, or anger. It might be that you move between these feelings at different times or even over the course of a day.

Grief can also affect different parts of your life, not just your feelings. It may impact on your thoughts, physical health, beliefs about yourself and the world, and relationships. It’s understandable that you’re finding it hard to focus on your lectures and classes right now, as your mind is focused on more relevant and deeper-lying emotional issues. The University has a support team that can assist you with appropriate adjustments to your academic assessments if you need them after an unexpected event, like losing someone close to you.

There is also no ‘right’ timeframe that it takes to grieve the loss of someone close to you. It will take as long as it will take. That being said, there are some things to consider that might support you through this process:

  • As a more specific personal technique, a starting point is to out-loud or internally label which stage of grief you are in from moment to moment. Shock/Denial, Anger, Depression, Bargaining, and Acceptance are the classic stages, with Acceptance being the final stage. The previous stages are more fluid and interchangeable. For example, saying to yourself “that’s anger talking” when getting frustrated with others or yourself is one way to do this. This is self-validating and allows this stage of grief to be listened to and processed.
  • Look after yourself even more than usual – try to get enough sleep, regular exercise and eat a healthy diet. Also, try to balance spending time alone with that of time with others. I realise this can be tricky to navigate in the current restrictions.
  • Where possible try to keep your normal routine, but be kind to yourself in knowing that some days will be harder than others. This also involves self-compassion, especially in the area of what is called “comparative logic”, which is when you compare your situation to that of others perceived to be in a worse situation. Your pain is valid, and sharing it with the right people is not being selfish. Paradoxically, sharing this grief will aid your recovery, so you can get back to functioning “normally” more quickly. The metaphor of “being weak to be strong” is an apt one.
  • Express how you feel to someone that you trust. It sounds like at the moment you feel scared to share with your family or friends how you are feeling, as you expect they won’t respond in an empathetic or helpful way – in this case I recommend talking to a professional.You could do this by booking an appointment with a counsellor at CAPS or even calling a helpline or chatting online to a trained counsellor. Writing in a journal might also help to express yourself.
  • Stay safe. Sometimes grief and loss, and feelings of isolation and loneliness can lead people to have thoughts about death or suicide. It’s very important that if this happens, you talk to a mental health professional as soon as possible.

Take care of yourself.You will start to feel better, but it’s important to allow yourself the time and space you need to grieve. Ask for help when you need it.

Here are some resources that might help you in navigating the next few weeks and months:

  • Beyond Blue information about grief and loss
  • Counselling and Psychological Services (CAPS) –  book a free and confidential appointment with a counsellor

Thanks again for reaching out and look after yourself.

Assignment anxiety

I am a psychology honours student who is really struggling with assignment anxiety. I submit things multiple times because I read over things constantly. My heart races, I don’t eat and I feel like vomiting. Even when I manage to submit an assignment, I stay up all night doubting that I have submitted it. I always think I am going to fail… and sometimes I convince myself I will and spend hours crying over assignments worth 3%. I have dealt with this for years, but I just can’t cope anymore. Any advice on how to deal with this would be helpful and much appreciated

Thank you for reaching out and sharing your story. It sounds like you have been struggling with anxiety around assignments for a while now and I can imagine that you would like to develop a constructive strategy to approach future assignments. Acknowledging that things are sometimes difficult to tackle on your own, and asking someone else to think with you is a good first step. Well done.

From what you are describing it sounds like you’re struggling with managing your thoughts and behaviours around assignments, and more specifically around the time of submission. There is a strong connection between our thoughts, feelings, physical sensations and behaviour. When struggling with difficult emotions, such as anxiety, it can be helpful to get a better understanding of the thought patterns and behaviours that are connected to the anxious feelings. It can sometimes be difficult to gain insight into these patterns because they become automatic and habitual.It might be a good idea for you to talk to a counsellor who can listen and help you to explore your thinking and behaviours in more detail so you can learn not be caught up in those patterns when it comes to submitting assignments. If you wish to do this you can book an initial consultation with one of our counsellors.

In general, when feeling anxious and experiencing symptoms of physiological stress most people benefit from breathing exercises that assist the body to calm down. For instruction on these breathing exercises you can have a look here. Alternatively, meditation and mindfulness can be beneficial and the counselling service runs two, half hour groups at midday on Wednesday and Friday during the semester which teach mindfulness practice.These are designed to be drop-in groups tailored to all levels, so if you would like to see if this could be helpful, all you need to do is register.

You describe an unhelpful cycle of submitting assignments over and over again, or checking multiple times if you have submitted the assignment. Even though these behaviours might give you a short sense of relief, they tend to create even more anxiety in the long run, and we call this the vicious cycle of anxiety. Learning strategies such as breathing and mindfulness can help you develop the capacity to resist the impulse to check or repeat behaviours. In addition, to you might want to consider other cognitive strategies such as thought challenging to help with the thoughts that contribute to the anxiety. As there are many strategies to help tackle anxiety, starting with one and making it part of your daily routine or habits, is going to increase the likelihood that you succeed in making your desired long-term changes!

Thanks again for your message. I wish you all the best.


Emotionally abusive parent

I am in lock-down with an emotionally abusive mother. She constantly makes disparaging comments about my job and my degree. When she is in a bad mood she always takes it out on myself and my two siblings and will say whatever she can to hurt us. She’ll say stuff like “other people got the good jobs and you got the leftover job”. Once she said that she had “lost two jobs” because of me. When I call her out on things, she will try to gaslight me. Things really hit the fan today and she exploded at my younger sister. I can’t help but really hate my father when this happens, because he has been an absent parent his entire life. It really makes me sick. Kind of feel a bit better putting all that down.. any idea of what I can do to keep myself safe at home?

Dear student,

Thank you for getting in touch and reaching out for help, it was brave of you to share your story and ask for support. It sounds like you have you have been going through an extremely stressful time. I am sorry to hear your relationship with your mum and dad has been so challenging, I imagine the current restrictions have exacerbated these issues. Despite everything you have been going through, it sounds like are very caring about your siblings and their wellbeing.

Given your circumstances, I understand why you are feeling emotional and overwhelmed. Being in lockdown must make life even more difficult because you can’t have a break from home. I’m sorry that you have been experiencing such critical and disparaging comments. University can already be stressful without additional pressure or unrelenting expectations at home. It must also be difficult feeling distant from your father and not being able to rely on him.

Right now, it may be most helpful to focus on your own self-care and what you can control. As hard as things are for you right now, connecting with friends and engaging in activities or experiences that are meaningful to you are really important for your mental health and wellbeing. Scheduling time for physical activity, particularly an outdoor activity like walking that will get you out of the house and expose you to direct daylight, will be really helpful. Also consider practising mindfulness or relaxation to cope with stress at home. There are an abundance of online mindfulness and relaxation resources available at no cost. Using an online app is always convenient and easily accessible. I’d suggest Smiling Mind or Insight Timer – these are two great apps with a variety of guided exercises.

I am glad you felt a little better from noting down your feelings and experiences. Writing and journaling your thoughts and feelings may help to relieve some of the stress when you’re feeling overwhelmed. You may also find talking to a counsellor helpful, which will allow you a safe space to explore your family issues and home environment in greater detail. You can book an initial consultation with a CAPS counsellor here.

You can also access a mental health care plan from your GP for longer term support. This means you can access between 6 and 20 counselling sessions with a Medicare rebate. One-to-one counselling will assist in addressing issues with boundaries and communication at home. The University of Melbourne’s Safer Communities Program also provides confidential advice and support for students who are experiencing emotional abuse from family. Given the volatile situation you are currently facing at home, this may be another helpful resource.

Thanks again for being brave and reaching out!


Sad and anxious after relationship break-up

Hi there, thanks for providing a platform for me to talk. I have been having trouble sleeping at night for months and it’s getting worse. I am facing stress from uni study as well as breakup before uni started. I thought I was over it, but now I am afraid of dating and of being betrayed again. Recently a guy told me he liked me but instead of telling him how I felt, I shut down my emotions and didn’t talk to him anymore. I have also developed some feelings of hatred towards my ex. Is this normalI want to stop thinking about the past all the time. I know there’s no use in going over it but don’t know how to stop racing thoughts in my mind. 

I’m glad that you reached out for support because it isn’t always easy, well done on taking time to get in touch. From what you are describing it sounds like you’re going through a tough time with relationships, sleep, friends and managing your thoughts. This may be amplified by the COVID 19 restrictions even if you don’t mention it explicitly 

The break-up of your relationship and impact of grief and loss seems to have had a big influence on your ability to trust and reach out to others. Everyone can experience grief and loss differently and may go through different stages of processing this. From what you’ve described it sounds completely reasonable and normal to be having these reactions. There are some useful tip sheets on the CAPS website and the headspace website, which may help you to understand grief and loss a bit better  

I am sorry to hear that sleep has been an ongoing issue for you and it is common to have difficulty sleeping when your mind is ruminating on issues that are worrying you. Sleeping difficulties can often lead to or contribute to mental health problems creating a vicious cycle. You may find it helpful to try some relaxation strategies to help you slow your thoughts down, such as progressive muscle relaxation or breath training exercises. There are guided exercises on these topics available here. You may also find that using meditation or mindfulness practices are useful ways to gain a different perspective on your thoughts, which may assist the quality of your sleep. 

An app could be helpful if you want further guidance in doing this, check out Smiling Mind, Headspace or My Life apps. We also have some more tips around sleep on our website. If you’re interested our webinars on getting better sleep and unhooking from unhelpful thoughts may be really helpful for you 

It would be a great idea for you to talk to a counsellor who can listen and explore your concerns in more detail. If you wish to do this you can book an initial consultation with one of our counsellors here.  Alternatively, you might wish to speak to your GP who can assess your mental health and refer you to a psychologist for longer-term-counselling which may give you access to between 6 to 20 sessions funded by Medicare for local students, or which may be covered through your international student health insurance for international students.  

Thanks again for reaching out and using your initiative to seek some support. Stay safe and take care. 

Missing interaction with university community

I am a first semester student at Unimelb and have found that online delivery courses are much less efficient than face-to-face classes. I am in a lockdown situation by myself and my communication with the school is limited, which I believe has led to unsatisfactory academic outcomes. Outside the classes, there is little chance for communicating with peers or tutors. When I do ask questions of tutors by ZOOM, they are online for 20-30 minutes and I can’t get much helpful information to solve my issues. I emailed tutors for advice, but sometimes the response takes so long that I can finish my assignment before I see it. I know it is a tough time for everyone, and tutors are busy, but I really need help at this time. What should I think about writing to get good grades? In one subject, I followed exactly what the tutor suggested, but I could not even pass the assignment. How often should I collect tutors’ or peers’ suggestions? Whose advice should I follow? What is wrong about my communication and understanding? I know it is a tough time for everyone, but I am a beginner and have a huge barrier in classes. What should I do?

Dear first semester student, thank you for getting in touch and for your questions. I imagine that you are feeling pretty frustrated that you are clearly putting a lot of effort into your learning and subjects, but not getting the outcomes that you hoped for. As you say, you are not alone in experiencing challenges in adjusting to online learning and the different type of communication with tutors and peers that this entails. I think that it can be particularly tricky for first semester students who are also adjusting to the demands of academic tertiary education as well as often a different style of teaching and learning to what they have experienced before. Another common issue for students in your situation is that being new to the course and University this year means there was limited time to get to know peers in person at the start of the semester who can sometimes be good supports with understanding and completing study.

It sounds like you have already been proactive in contacting your tutors with extra questions which is great, but as you are aware the tutors are also limited in the time they can give to students and have a lot of different students to respond to. I’m not aware of your specific faculty or subject areas but here are some broader suggestions that you may like to try:

Academic Skills:
In addition to study support from your tutors and faculty, the University has an Academic Skills support service for students which includes online resources, workshops, as well as opportunities to book a one on one appointment with an Academic Skills staff member to help with specific study issues.

Peer mentoring program:
If you are an undergraduate student, the University offers a peer mentoring program that you can participate in. Part of this program is to match you with a later year student peer mentor and a group of first-year peers from your course. This can be an opportunity to receive personalized advice about study from others who have been through it or are also in the same position.

Graduate Students Association:
If you are a graduate student, I would recommend having a look at the GSA website as they offer study, work and social events and information to help support you in your University experience.

Study Melbourne:
If you are an international student, Study Melbourne is a Centre in the Melbourne CBD set up to support international students who are studying in Melbourne with a range of areas including adjusting to study.

Counselling & Psychological Services:
Some students find it helpful to book an appointment with a Uni Counsellor from CAPS. This is a free and confidential service. This can be an opportunity to talk through how you are feeling and receive tips on how to enhance your study such as support with time management, goal setting, communication and motivation. CAPS also offers regular workshops on study-related topics that you might find relevant.

The Social Connection – Social Breakouts:
If you want to chat to other students to share ideas or just for fun, there are Social Breakouts running on Tuesday and Friday nights for students to meet a few new people in a relaxed and fun way.

I think it’s great that you are motivated to improve. The first year of University is a pretty big learning curve for most people at the best of times! The additional changes with Covid-19 have made this even more so for first year students in 2020. So be kind to yourself and know you are not alone with this. I hope these suggestions are helpful and hang in there – it will get easier.
All the best.

Loneliness, anxiety and low self-esteem

It’s my last semester in the Uni, yet I feel like I have never had a close friend since my arrival in Melbourne two years ago. Everybody has their own circle since they are here since their first year or met during a foundation year. I have tried so hard to approach people to make friends. It’s sad to have nobody here, to not talk to anyone for days, to have nobody to study together with. I always think there is something wrong with me, so I push myself more to approach friends, such as taking the initiative to work together in a group assignment. But, as expected, it’s only a formality and once the assignment ends, we lose contact. I also hate myself at some points. Every time I hang-out with someone or have group discussion, there are voices in my head saying bad things like “they think you are weird”, or “they must feel uncomfortable around me” “they must want this to be over soon”. I went to a CAPS consultation but can’t seem to really tell the counsellor everything that’s inside my head. I was so stressed out with my thoughts and problems but can’t say much during the consultation. Please help.

Thank you for your message – I really feel for you! It sounds like you are having a difficult time and feeling very alone. I can see you’ve made a lot of effort to try to build connections with others – you have taken great initiative and been brave. It also sounds like it can be hard when your mind comes up with those difficult thoughts when you’re trying to connect with others.

I want to encourage you that you’re not alone – it is quite common to feel lonely, sad and like everyone else has made friends but you. Making friends does take time and can seem very daunting, but it definitely isn’t too late. It sounds like you have felt like this for a while. This period of lockdown has magnified feelings of social isolation for many people and changed the way we can meet others; however it is still possible to meet people at this time. Counselling and Psychological Services (CAPS) has a resource page that talks about skills for making friends. Look out for the University’s Social Connection online events, which are designed to help new people meet. You may also like to join some other UMSU groups and societies.

It also sounds like the thoughts about feeling judged or unaccepted can make it hard for you when you’re trying to connect with others.  This kind of social anxiety is very common and there has been a lot of research on it, meaning there are a lot of good evidence-based treatments available. Every semester CAPS runs webinars and workshops about these kinds of experiences, with lots of information and practical tips on tackling social anxiety.

I am glad you have come to see a counsellor at CAPS. I wonder if you might consider telling the counsellor you have seen about this Ask Counselling question? Some people find it easier to write down their thoughts instead of talking about them – and you’ve done a great job sharing about your feelings in this online forum. Perhaps you and your counsellor could look at this question together – we really want to support you.

Family issues during the COVID-19 pandemic

Due to Covid-19 restrictions I decided to move back to my family home before borders closed. My parents have had an uneasy marriage since I was born, but it has steadily gotten worse and came to a breaking point just before I went home.
Their relationship is highly conflictual, and they are in the process of getting a divorce. The environment at home is very difficult, my parents are verbally aggressive towards each other and will often speak critically about the other in the presence of myself and my younger siblings. When I speak to them about their behaviour it has not changed anything and leads to conflict. They are both at fault from my perspective and have not taken the steps required to create a better environment for my siblings.
My dad is very busy at work and often avoiding conflict with my mum, and my mum is preoccupied with her feelings about my dad. As a result, I end up being the role model to my younger brother and sister. This is taking a toll on the time in which I could be studying.
I’m afraid that when I leave to go back to Melbourne in the holidays nothing will change. I can’t focus on my exams and frequently find I am tired. I guess I just want some reassurance that I’m not crazy and that this isn’t okay, even though my parents treat it as the norm.

Thank you for sharing your story– what a difficult experience for you! I can see that you care a lot about your younger siblings and I’m really glad you reached out. The way you are feeling sounds like a normal response to a difficult situation and when we are experiencing hard times, we sometimes need extra support.

It sounds like you feel pressure from many sides: trying to be a good role model to your brother and sister; feeling stressed and angry about the conflict at home; concern about the impact on your siblings when you return to Melbourne; sleep difficulties; and also the challenge of keeping up with your studies and exams. This is a really tough situation and it makes sense that you are struggling with it.

When there’s conflict in a family (whether it’s expressed or not), it can feel a lot like being on a boat in a storm. A seasoned captain knows they need to make some adjustments (drop an anchor, let down a sail, get more sailors on deck) in order to get through the period of rough weather. They also understand the kinds of things that are in their control, and the things that aren’t. From your description of the situation, it is likely that you are not able to directly change the source of stress, your parent’s relationship and their behaviour, for which they are solely responsible.

So, as you find yourself in this storm the following suggestions may give you tools to help you to navigate this difficult time:

  • Look after yourself. This is a tough time. Studying at Uni is hard enough, let alone when there are other personal challenges. Check out the CAPS resources on supporting your Wellbeing, including information on how to improve your sleep.
  • Acknowledge your feelings.  When we are facing challenging situations, it is normal to experience intense emotions. Emotions are a form of energy, which may become overwhelming when we find ourselves in the midst of a personal ‘storm’. Allow yourself time to observe and express what you’re feeling. This could be through journalling, talking with supportive others, mindfulness practice, or creative activities such as drawing, painting, poetry, music.
  • Practicing mindfulness is also an effective way to cope during stressful situations. It helps us focus on the “here and now”, rather than on worries about the future or ruminating on the past. You might considering registering for the CAPS ‘Midday Mindful Moments’ sessions that are held via Zoom on Wednesdays and Fridays. There are also commonly used mobile apps, such as Smiling Mind and Headspace, which include mindfulness exercises and other helpful tips to manage stress.
  • I also suggest that you take time to connect with friends, and do things that you find enjoyable, such as a walk outside. There are established benefits for our mental health that come from connecting with others and from spending time in nature.
  • Consider booking an appointment to see one of our counsellors at the CAPS service. It may be helpful to have some one-on-one support to learn more about things like: personal boundaries (how to be responsible for our stuff, but not take on other people’s responsibilities); interpersonal effectiveness (such as assertive communication); and value-guided living (living a meaningful life).
  • Finally, although you didn’t mention being concerned about your safety, or the safety of your siblings, the Safer Community program at the University can provide support for students who are concerned about family violence.


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