Many students are guilty of it at one point or another: Holding "I had less sleep than you did" or "I'm so busy!" contests. This tends to be a particular phenomenon among student leaders, who are often some of the busiest students on campus. They swap tales of all-nighters, crammed schedules and three-page to-do lists, almost as a badge of honor, to prove that they are in demand and working hard. If you suspect that your student is swamped and feeling overwhelmed, there are a few things you can do:

  • Ask them to list out their activities and responsibilities for the semester. What time commitment is required for each per week?
  • Ask them about things they want to accomplish this semester, whether it's doing really well in a particular class, taking a Pilates class or spending good time with friends who will be graduating in May.
  • Looking at their list of commitments, ask them where they are going to fit in their wants.
  • Remind them of responsibilities that they may not have considered, such as getting their resume up to par for an internship, researching graduate schools or volunteering at the local social service agency as part of their classwork.
  • Once the time commitments seem to be laid out, talk with your student about living with a crammed schedule. Is this how they want to operate? Will the backlog of things on their to-do list prevent them from taking advantage of opportunities?
  • You may want to talk about how some student leaders feel valued proportional to how busy and needed they are. Does your student identify with his work and accomplishments more than they identify with just being themselves?
  • Talk about what could be cut from your student's schedule. Don't make suggestions. Let your student decide. What activity is on the list that doesn't feel totally worthwhile? Could your student be a member of an organization instead of an officer? What are some ways to whittle the schedule into something that is manageable while still being satisfying?

These kinds of conversations can help students take their personal health and well-being into consideration a bit more. You can help your student see that you're not judging them by the quantity of their involvements but by the quality of their commitment. Have some intentional conversations to let them know that it's not a contest to see who can be the busiest and get the least sleep. A balanced life is much more worthwhile.

Signs that your student may be overwhelmed

  • Constantly feeling behind.
  • Worried about others' perceptions.
  • Fear of letting people down.
  • Not able to get a handle on various commitments.
  • Paralyzed by multi-tasking.
  • Consistently disorganized.
  • Not as reliable.
  • Frustrated.
  • Burned out.
  • Tense to the point of anger and other intense emotions.
  • Scattered and unfocused

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