As the school year ebbs and flows, there are undoubtedly portions that are overwhelming and stressful. Whether it is a big test coming up, a project that is due, or it’s just that one class that you’re struggling with, these instances can cause immense amounts of stress and anxiety.

While stress is the response to the assignment or test, anxiety is your specific response to that stress, which can include excessive worrying that persists after the stressful event (i.e. the test, assignment, or class) is over.

Whether what you are experiencing is stress or anxiety, there are various steps that you can take to manage these responses. This article aims to provide concrete strategies that you can engage when feeling overwhelmed with schoolwork.


Write it down

When overwhelmed, it can be difficult to think straight. There may be thoughts racing through your head about everything that you need to do and the lack of time that you have to do it. These thoughts themselves can cause you to feel even more stressed.

One tip is to write down everything that you need to do, broken down into simple steps. This allows you to get your to-do list out of your head, which is more abstract, and puts it down on paper, which is more concrete. Visualizing the list can make the task feel less intimidating.

For example, if you have a paper that you need to write, your list may include “write outline, thesis statement, introduction, body paragraphs, conclusion, edit draft.” Once you complete one task on the list, you can cross it off. This will help you visualize your progress and can make you feel accomplished, thus, building motivation.


Take timed, intentional breaks

Working on these really difficult or stress-provoking assignments require a lot of mental energy. When you notice that your attention is beginning to wander more frequently, it can be a sign that you need a break. It is important that this break is intentional and timed, so it doesn’t turn into a two-hour Netflix-session.

First, think about what type of break is the best for you in that moment:

Do you need to calm down because you are feeling stressed about the amount of work left to do?

  • If so, maybe deep breathing, listening to your favorite song, or drawing could be a good fit.

Do you need to let out some frustration because you can’t figure out how to complete an assignment or can’t grasp a concept?

  • If so, try releasing the energy through intense exercise, such as running around the block or jumping rope.

Once you know what kind of break you need, it is important to take it within a designated time frame. The key is to set a timer (that you do not snooze), so you return to your studies and focus.

It can also help to plan these breaks ahead of time and use them as a reward, such as “I will take a 7-minute break after I write my outline.”


Focus on the current task

When working on an assignment that causes stress, it can be tempting to avoid the task. If we don’t start the math homework, then we can’t get frustrated with it, right?

Although this seems like a good idea in the moment, procrastination can cause more stress later on down the line when you do finally start the assignment.

One way to avoid this is to practice focusing on the current task. If you find yourself worrying about everything you need to get done. Notice that you are worrying about the future, let that thought go, and bring your attention back to the present moment so you can focus on first accomplishing the task at hand.


Give yourself some self-compassion

It’s easy to be self-critical when it comes to schoolwork. Maybe you’re feeling down on yourself because you procrastinated an assignment all week, and now you need to cram it all in one night. You might be saying to yourself: Ugh, why did I save this all until now?, I always do this, I should have done this earlier, I’m so screwed.

Instead of engaging in this kind of self-talk, treat yourself with self-compassion. It is also important to note that eating a whole pizza to feel better because you are stressed is not self-compassion, but rather self-indulgence. However practicing self-compassion, can help alleviate stress and anxiety and help you feel better in the moment and in the long-term.

Self-compassion includes being kind and understanding towards yourself rather than judging yourself. Showing yourself compassion in that moment might mean acknowledging that you are doing the best that you can right now, and that is all you can do. Self-compassion includes acknowledging that what you are experiencing right now is really difficult and asking yourself what you need right now to be happy and healthy.

This may look like telling yourself, This is really hard, but I’ve survived through tough assignments before. I can do it, or When I finish this part, I’m going to take a 5-minute break to call my friend and destress a little

Stress and anxiety can be debilitating and cause us to feel powerless. By organizing our tasks, being intentional with our time and focus, and showing ourselves some true compassion, we build personalized strategies to practice and can begin to feel a greater sense of empowerment. Try implementing these tips and see if they help you better manage the stress and anxiety you may feel surrounding your schoolwork. More often than not, even just a little bit of change goes a long way.