If you just started at FIU this Early Fall semester, you might be wondering how to juggle it all. New classes, new assignments, new ways of studying – plus the stress of dealing with the pandemic.
“There are always problems that come up that don’t have to do with academics, but can affect it,” says Christina Chong, manager of the College Life Coaching Program. “It could be financial stress, a car that broke down or someone in the family that lost their job. With the pandemic, we’re all feeling the same kind of anxiety and stress. There’s a lot of stress.”
So, how do we try to stay on track?
“Going back to the basics,” Chong says. “Even before the pandemic hit, the importance of reflecting through our plans is huge. Identifying what’s working for me, what’s not working for me. And then moving forward with a plan.”
The first thing you have to figure out is deceptively simple: What is your goal?
Is your goal to pass your classes this semester? To eat healthier? To learn more about your chosen major?
Be specific with your goal. Does passing your classes mean getting As and Bs? Does it mean As, Bs and Cs? Does eating healthier mean trying a new vegetable every week or does it mean eating less junk food every day?
Once you figure out your goal, then you need to take a step back and ask yourself: “What am I doing to meet that goal? And is it working for me?”
If you start feeling overwhelmed with a growing number of goals and responsibilities, try to come up with smaller steps that will help you reach each goal. For example, short-term goals could be: To study five days prior to your upcoming test; to eat more fruits for two weeks; to attend one virtual career workshop this semester.
By the time you get to the end of the semester, you might surprise yourself to find that you met your bigger goal.
Chong says that to ensure success, we should analyze our progress in four key areas: Time management, study strategies, resources and self-care.
“I’m not a huge fan of the phrase ‘time management,’” Chong explains. “It doesn’t mean ‘work on having an agenda.’ It could mean someone is struggling with procrastination or keeping track of assignments. I could have an agenda with a perfect schedule, but can sit down and am not focused.”
For those out there struggling to organize their day of remote activities, Chong has a reminder: “If you have cabin fever, you technically have all the time in the world to do what you need to do, but you don’t want to do it. That’s why the mental aspect of time management is important.”
Start by asking yourself if the way you’re dividing your time is working for you.
“If I continue to tell myself I need to wake up at 7 a.m. and then not do it, I’m going to feel like a failure,” Chong explains. “But is that plan working for me? Finding a balance between having a plan and giving yourself that flexibility to tell if it’s not working is key.”
It’s all about finding your own groove – the rhythm that works for you. Maybe you realize you do a lot better waking up at 8 a.m., exercising and later studying after 11 a.m. Maybe you do better studying after 5 p.m. Or maybe you try studying after lunch and realize it’s horrible for you because you get sleepy.
Another example: If watching the news all day during these times is making you anxious and not letting you focus, then re-think your schedule.
Chong says you can come up with an effective plan to stay informed without overwhelming yourself. Maybe, she says, you realize if you watch the news after 6 p.m. or 7 p.m., you might find you don’t feel so stressed out during the day. Or maybe it works better for you if you watch the news early in the morning and turn it off after 9 a.m.
The point is, Chong says, don’t be afraid to try new schedules or new ideas. Be open to figuring out at what times and what strategies work best for you.
Similar to time management, Chong says many students often feel they have to use particular study strategies to succeed. You might think you can ace an exam just by listening to the lecture and reading and reviewing the textbook a few days before the exam.
But that might not work for you. You might need to make flash cards with important terms. You might need to start reviewing textbook material a week before the exam. You might need to schedule a session with a tutor from the Center for Academic Success (CfAS). You might want to look up Youtube videos to see how others have broken down the information. Or you might just need to schedule a Zoom study group with some of your classmates to review for the exam together.
If you’re struggling with a course, Chong says, we often tend to put ourselves down. Instead, we need to give ourselves some positive talk – a mental pep talk if you will.
“If you a have friend that is having the same issue, what would you tell them?” Chong asks. “A lot of the time, we give great advice to our friends. But when it’s ourselves, we tell ourselves everything sucks and that’s it. You can’t really control the first thought that comes into your brain, but you can control the second thought. If you think ‘I’m going to fail at this class.’ Then, your second thought should be, ‘How can I pass this class? How can I break down the information into smaller chunks?”
This means two things: know your resources – and be willing to act resourceful.
At FIU, there are a number of resources available for students. Tutoring at the CfAS and at the Center for Excellence in Writing; college life coaches, academic advisors and career counselors; and the Healthy Living Program to help you learn about healthy lifestyle practices. The list goes on. Do your homework and learn what’s available for you.
The second part of this equation is to analyze how you best feel you can overcome some of the road blocks in your way. Be creative – your kind of creative.
For example, if you love study groups, but social distancing is keeping you away from getting together physically, then think of other ways you could have a study group – through Zoom, chat, phone calls, swapping study tip videos with classmates or maybe you even create your own study blog.
This is a big one. With so many responsibilities and goals we often set for ourselves, we tend to forget to take care of ourselves.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed with all your tasks, try thinking about what healthy strategies can help you overcome those feelings. “It’s figuring out what are the coping strategies that can take me one step closer to self-care,” Chong explains.
If you know that exercising makes you feel good, then exercise. If you know that watching a TV show or chatting via Zoom with a friend helps brighten your day, then do that.
And make sure you’re aware of yourself. If you know you don’t eat much when you’re stressed, try to make it a priority to eat your meals. If you tend to escape all your responsibilities, watch TV and then pull two or three all-nighters at the last moment, try to schedule yourself so you won’t strain your body unnecessarily later.
College Life Coaching
The College Life Coaching Program is housed under Academic and Career Success, which is focused exclusively on helping students achieve success at FIU and after graduation through a variety of services.
The coaching program is dedicated to helping students figure out their goals and talk through their ideas for planning and strategies for success. If you are interested in speaking with a coach, set up an appointment by visiting coaching.fiu.edu and/or calling 305-348-8137.