How can I feel better when I'm feeling overwhelmed?
June 7, 2011 6:00 PM   Subscribe

How do I keep my chin up when I’m feeling overwhelmed in every part of my life?

I’ll try and keep this short. I’m a university student currently living abroad. I’m in the middle of final exam preparation and about three weeks away from returning home. I’m feeling overwhelmed and “down on myself” in almost every sector of my life right now. For example:

Socially: Some of my friendships I’ve made while overseas have become a bit rocky for various reasons, leaving me feeling lonely and isolated. I’m also very disconnected from my friends and family back home.

Academically: I am a good student, but I don’t handle the stress of final exams very well. Even when I have a good day in the library and I complete the work I set out to do, I immediately feel bad. There’s always more time that I could be spending studying. There are days when I have no motivation to do my work at all.

Physically: I’ve gained a substantial amount of weight over the past few months from a combination of unhealthy cafeteria food (I’m on a meal plan) and drinking too much. I try to eat the healthiest options at meal times, but I’m usually left unsatisfied and ravenous in an hour or two. I enjoy cooking my own food, but money to purchase groceries is tight, and I have limited access to groceries and a kitchen. I have decreased my alcohol intake to about one night every two weeks, but I know that I’ll want to join my friends at the bar for one last night out before we leave.

As far as exercise goes I have access to a gym and either workout on my own or attend fitness classes 3-5 times a week. I have not seen any improvement in the mirror or on the scale, despite having increased my workout intensity, duration, and frequency two months ago.

Mentally: I feel very negative about myself. I don’t like what I see in the mirror, I can’t believe I’ve let myself get like this. I also feel like a terrible student. I’m not sleeping well, and I spend my days struggling through studying and work outs and not chewing my arm off between meals. I feel like I have a very unhealthy lifestyle here, and I’m just treading water until I can come home, relax, loss the weight, and be with my family and friends.

How can I make it through these next few weeks? What can I do to feel better now?
posted by gumtree to Health & Fitness (9 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know how much internet access you've got, but have you considered joining a fitness/nutrition related site for guidance and community support? is excellent for this.
posted by katillathehun at 6:18 PM on June 7, 2011

Living abroad as a student is incredibly stressful, even without the rocky relationships, limited food options, or exams. Would it help to have something positive to focus on back home? I think that it's really okay to have gained weight in this stressful time, and to be finding it hard to deal with. When you get back home and back into your normal routine, you can start to address the things in your life that you don't like - but for now you should just focus on making the time you have now as bearable as possible. Can you find one thing you enjoy and try to do it every day? Maybe you won't be able to, but that's okay as well. Good luck!
posted by lab.beetle at 6:19 PM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Having returned from living and working abroad, I understand your feelings as you near the time to return home. Coupled with stressful final exams, it's normal to be feeling depressed. Don't fret about your weight. You will lose it when your body gets the rest it needs. My advice to you is to focus on getting at least eight hours of sleep every night or at least take a nap if you were up late studying. Try to reconnect with some of your friends you have made before you return home. Try to look forward to your return home. Get in contact with your family and make fun plans for when you arrive. Party leaving and party upon return! Meanwhile take a break from studying and watch something funny. Try to eat a balanced diet as cliche as that sounds. It does help! Believe me when I say it will get better! : ) Take care!
posted by thatgirl1985 at 6:22 PM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think you may be anticipating a big change in life (moving back home), impatient with the time to pass before you get back into the familiar, and you're worried about exams. All totally understandable.

Take a step back and see yourself a year from now. Is this minor blip downward in eating habits and study habits going to affect you permanently? Probably not. Will you have had the experience of being abroad for a time to reflect on? Absolutely.

Maybe taking some time to appreciate some things about your experience/surroundings before you go? Take some pictures of the places you've come to take for granted but will struggle to remember the details of when you're back home? Taste some of the local flavors or gather some local items you want to share with people when you get home.

Mostly, remember that this state isn't permanent and that living in the future can cause more stress and try to live in the present. I think that may help.
posted by xingcat at 6:24 PM on June 7, 2011

Don't worry about the weight. When I lived abroad (in high school), I gained about 8 lbs. Almost all the girls on my program gained at least as much. I think it's very normal with the increased stress of living abroad.

When I got home and returned to my normal habits, I lost it all in a couple months without conscious effort. Sorry I can't advise you on the rest! I'm also abroad and returning home in about a month, so I can sympathize with feeling antsy.
posted by queens86 at 6:42 PM on June 7, 2011

Plan to worry about one thing at a time. Don't bet yourself up for worrying about that one thing. The things you're talking about are a big deal, so you're not being irrational or anything. You just need to compartmentalise a bit, because while you can easily worry about them all at once, you can't do something about them all at once.

Immediate priority: exams. Worry about that now, and eat whatever the hell it takes you to get through it. Once exams are over, check in with your friends. Say you feel like things have been a bit rocky lately, and that you hope it hasn't been because you've spent so much time wrapped up in exams. Arrange something for when you get back. Then, go home, and aim to lose some weight over summer. Sounds like you've got the fitness thing sorted, so it's probably worry weight. Might be something to think about over the long term if food becomes an antidote to stress - maybe talk to a counselor about some alternative strategies.

I know it seems like a long, dark tunnel, but hello from the other side. It really, seriously gets awesomely better. You'll probably never be as stressed out again in your life as you are now.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 7:45 PM on June 7, 2011

Sorry you're having such a shitty time right now. Sounds dreadful.

Reading over your post, the majority of it is about weight and your appearance. Feeling bad about one's body can be a symptom - stress may be making you feel worse about yourself - but it is also a cause of stress. You sound pretty negative about how you look and you're eating.

I agree that this might not be the best time to think a lot about weight and eating. You're just trying to make it through the next few weeks? Maybe now is not the time to be on a diet. It's kind of a set up to feel even more shitty about yourself.

Exercise on the other hand can sometimes really help with mood. Perhaps your exercise program isn't meeting your needs. Maybe you can start a new one? Is there somewhere you can take a class? I don't know what's available where you live but everyone around here is obsessed with Zumba lately as it apparently makes them feel fucking fantastic. Myself I'm into boxing. I know others who get high swimming. I know a few people who have taken yoga teaching certification classes which kind of forces them to show up on a regular basis. My point is, can you try a different type of exercise that might give you more results in the mental health arena? Is there any way you can separate the exercise from the weight loss question? Because right now I think the biggest value of exercise for you could be mood stabilization.

Good luck, and sorry again you're going through such a shitty time. I've been through some really hard times myself, and I did get through them!
posted by serazin at 10:54 PM on June 7, 2011

Meditation definitely helps me in that type of situation.

(Prayer works too for the so inclined, as I gather.)

I also need a cardio-type workout and nature - so something very similar to running outdoors is mandatory for me under stress. Gym exercise doesn't do it for me.
posted by krilli at 1:12 AM on June 8, 2011

I agree with other posters that you don't particularly need to worry about your weight right now.

However, I'm wondering what you are eating if after 1-2 hours you are ravenous. Being that hungry makes you feel worse and also makes you more likely to eat whatever comes along. That's ... not healthy. I know. In college I was eating crackers for lunch. I could not figure out why I didn't have the energy to get through the day. Hah. Now I know what I need a decent breakfast and that lunch really needs to have a substantial amount of protein, complex carbohydrates, and a bit of fat. This can be done with grilled fish with veg and brown rice, or a salad with chicken. In the afternoon I might need a handful of nuts or a piece of cheese.

Don't worry too much about the numbers on the scale, but take another look at your food intake and try making some adjustments. Think at it from the perspective of making sure you have the right fuel. I think this should help with your energy problem, and more energy will help you feel less overwhelmed.

Also, if you have access to student health services, seek them out and talk about what's going on. They might be able to offer counseling or other support.

Good luck!
posted by bunderful at 4:06 AM on June 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

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