By Katie Azevedo, M.Ed.
Feeling overwhelmed at school is one of the main reasons why students experience anxiety, to skip classes, sleep poorly and avoid homework. This can hardly be surprising, as school is essentially a full-time, high-stakes job with endless assessments and many moving parts.
Common causes of feeling overwhelmed at school
What contributes to a student feeling overwhelmed at school depends on a variety of factors, including the student’s skill level, the teacher’s aptitude, parental pressure, school resources, and student resources. Unfortunately, many of these causes are beyond the student’s control.
However, many causes of overachievement are well inside control of a student, and that is what this blog post aims to address. Sources of stress and anxiety over which students have control often include:
- Not ask for help
- Not accurately estimating the time needed to complete tasks
- Procrastinate on difficult or unclear homework
- Not studying properly
- Not managing time appropriately
How to feel less overwhelmed at school
Although the very nature of education can be demanding, certain strategies can help students feel less overwhelmed in school. The key behind each of the strategies is take responsability And To take part. If you feel overwhelmed at school, DO NOTHING.
1. Don’t ignore the confusion
Pretending you’re not confused is the best way to stay confused. Seriously, I want you to internalize this. I know that confusion is an unpleasant feeling (what are we learning? What does that mean? How can I do this? WHO AM I?!), but when you feel confused in class, you should consider this valuable feedback. Your confusion should tell you to slow down and ask questions; if you don’t slow down and ask questions, you will end up being overwhelmed and more confused.
Here are some tips when you feel confused in class:
- Read this article on feeling confused in the classroom.
- If you get confused when taking notes at home, write a question mark in your notes and ask the teacher or a classmate to explain the material at the earliest opportunity.
- If you are confused during a lecture, raise your hand and ask the teacher to repeat themselves or clarify the part that is confusing you. You can even ask the teacher to give more examples.
- If you get confused when doing group work or independent work during class, ask your classmates for help or approach the teacher at their desk.
- If you are confused about anything at any time, meet your teacher.
2. Put systems in place
Not knowing what is happening and when it is happening is a guaranteed way to feel overwhelmed in school. If you’re in high school or college, you should have the following two systems in place:
- A homework tracking system
- A time tracking system
Both of the above systems are truly non-negotiable. They also work beautifully together. If you’re looking for just one strategy to feel less overwhelmed in school, this would be it.
A homework tracking system includes some kind of homework notebook (digital or analog), but does NOT include your learning management system (LMS). Your LMS is where your teachers post assignments, usually Google Classroom, Schoology, Canvas or something like that. Relying on your LMS to track assignments is not enough, because you are at the mercy of what your teachers upload to the platform: you have no way to add your own assignments, such as studying, reading, preparing presentations, etc. Here is what you need to know about homework tracking systems.
A time tracking system includes your calendar. here is my complete tutorial on using google calendar for school. Again, not knowing what’s going on day to day is a direct route to stress and anxiety.
How to combine your homework and time tracking systems:
- Calculate how much time you have in the day, using my Google Calendar tutorial (link above)
- Have an accurate list of overdue, in-progress, and upcoming assignments, including tests, in your homework notebook
- Like puzzle pieces, place your homework in the time pockets you identified as available for homework in step 1
- Don’t ignore the times when the calculations don’t match. If you have more work than can mathematically fit in your pockets of time, you need to take a different action.
3. Start before you want
I know procrastination is good in the moment because you avoid work. But procrastinating on homework always, always leads to anxiety and overwhelm in the end. I challenge you to think of a time when you procrastinated and were not more stressed at the end.
- Do you know you have a test next week? Start studying now, using spaced repetition.
- Do you have an essay due in a few days? Create your doc and make your plan.
- Got 3 chapters to read in two days? Start now by reading a chapter and a half.
I know you don’t want to start. Really, I know it. But start, no matter what you think.
Here are also my topic-specific anti-procrastination guides:
4. Study using active recall
Do you study a lot but still don’t do well on tests? Then you’re probably not using active recall to study. If you’re rereading notes, skimming through your textbook, or flipping through class slides, you don’t study. Here is how to use active reminder to study. If you do anything else, you’re wasting your time and you’ll end up being more overwhelmed.
5. Do fewer non-essential activities
Feeling overwhelmed at school (and in other settings as well) usually comes from feeling like you have too much to do and not enough time. If you have your procrastination under control (for real) and you manage your schedule well, and you always overwhelmed by the amount of work you have, you may need to do less.
In this article, I talk about the real cost of activities. You should read it. Honestly, the reality is that sometimes we have to temporarily reduce our commitments to get through busy times. I know it stinks, but there is no alternative. (No, not doing your school work is not an alternative.)
If the commitments on your calendar are truly non-negotiable, then you need to be serious about cutting back on other non-essentials, like spending hours on your phone (yes, hours…check your screen time tracker…c ‘East hours), watch TV and play video games. Yes, I know these are fun activities, but you’re here looking for tips on how to feel less overwhelmed in school and where you spend your time. is a key tip.
Final note on feeling overwhelmed at school
If you have sincerely done what you can to feel less overwhelmed and are still experiencing significant feelings of anxiety or hopelessness, please seek help. Talk to your parents, a school counselor, your doctor or a therapist. Sometimes, despite our best independent efforts, we just need help from an outside source. You’re worth it.