Census date is here

So as most of you would be aware, census date is approaching fast. Census date is the last day that you can withdraw from or drop a course without financial penalty (i.e., still having to pay the fees).

In Semester 2 2017, the census date is 31 Aug 2017 at 11.59pm, that is Thursday – tomorrow! If you drop a course after this date, you will still be required to pay for it, unless you have grounds to apply for remission of fees. The last day to drop a course without academic penalty (i.e., a fail grade), is the 3rd of November.

If you are considering dropping a course, but having trouble deciding for sure, one simple strategy to help you to decide is to write down the pros and cons of dropping the subject. Usually, if we are struggling to make a decision we tend to go back and forth about the pros and cons in our mind anyway, however because there is so much information to juggle we can just end up feeling confused. Writing it down can stop going over and over it in your mind, help you to figure out where you may need more information, and help you come to a decision. You could use this template as a guide.

 

Example:

Pros of dropping XXXX1001 course Cons of dropping XXXX1001
I have more of a chance to pass my other 3 courses Will extend my degree by 6 months
Reduce stress levels May impact on program next semester *need to check this with program advisor
Able to continue working 3 days per week May impact on visa *need to check this with student advice
May get better grades in my other subjects

 

It would also be important to consider the impact that dropping a course might have on Centrelink support, meeting visa requirements, or meeting prerequisites for courses you want to take next semester. The Student Advice team can help you with any visa questions, and your Program Advisor can provide advice about how to minimise disruption to your degree.

 

For those who do not need to drop a course, census date could be a good reminder to ‘take stock’ of where you are at.

  • How are you coping with the workload?
  • How stressed are you feeling?
  • How is your sleep and energy levels?
  • Is perfectionism or procrastination or anxiety or something else getting on top of you?

If things are going well for you – great! Perhaps take a note of what you think is making it work well – and keep doing it.

 

However if things are not going so well, then now is the time to make a change. Really stop and consider what are the factors that are contributing to your difficulties at the moment?

  • Do you have too much on your plate? Is there something you can say no to for a few weeks to help you get on top of things? Do you need to consider dropping one course?
  • Do you need some more support to manage anxiety or low mood? You could book in with a counsellor, chat to someone on skype drop in, complete an online treatment program such as This Way Up or eCliPSE, or talk to a close friend for support.
  • Do you need to make some more time for activities that rejuvenate you? E.g., being in nature, exercise, or something creative?

A National Report on Sexual Assault and Harassment in Australian Universities – How to look after yourself

Today, the Australian Human Rights Commission has released the findings of a national survey commissioned by Universities Australia to provide a greater understanding of the scale of sexual assault and harassment experienced by university students and to inform strategies for prevention and support for survivors.

All 39 Australian universities, including the University of Newcastle (UON), participated in the project, which involved a survey of a representative sample of students’ experiences and an open call for submissions.

The release of the findings, or the associated media coverage, may cause challenges for some survivors of sexual assault. Media portrayals or discussions within the university about sexual violence may evoke reactions such as intrusive memories, anxiety, feelings of sadness or irritability.

If this is the case for you, there are a number of options available to you. As a student at UON you can talk to Counsellor or UON Campus Care, who are able to provide you with advice, connect you with specialised support and help you through the reporting process if you choose.

For some people, the discussions about the findings of the survey may lead them to reflect on past experiences of sexual assault or harassment and decide to come forward to make a report.

The UON website provides further resources and advice on how to make a report to the university or police, where you can go to get help, information about sexual assault and how to support someone who discloses sexual based assault or harassment.

Below are some tips on how to look after yourself if you are feeling distressed:

  • Let people close to you know what is going on for you. This will allow them to be better able to support you.
  • You may like to minimise contact with media sources for a short time. In particular, try to avoid reading the comments sections of online news stories or social media, as these can be a forum for extreme reactions both for and against allegations of sexual assault.
  • Find comfort in talking to someone you trust about your feelings or reaction. You could talk to a counsellor or psychologist, campus care, someone close to you, or a specialist helpline such as NSW Rape Crisis (1800 424 017).
  • Make space for the feelings that come up, whatever they may be. Be aware of any ‘shoulds’ about your feelings, for example, “I should be over this already”, “I shouldn’t be upset about this”. Remember that there is no right or wrong way to feel, and no set timeframe for recovery from a trauma. Be gentle with yourself.
  • You may like to express yourself by writing about your feelings in a journal, artwork, listening to music, singing or any other creative outlet you enjoy.

This information is also relevant for people who are supporting someone who experienced a sexual-based assault (e.g. partner, friend, family member, etc).

UON Counselling, Online Counselling, Campus Care and the NSW Rape Crisis Line are available to provide support.


Managing Exam Anxiety

Written by Gemma Edgar (Student Counsellor for English Language and Foundation Studies programs)

Exams are coming up and that usually means that students start to feel stressed, anxious and a little overwhelmed.

Feeling some degree of anxiety and stress is natural when it comes to exams. This type of anxiety can actually be beneficial. If you can harness that energy, it can help you perform better!

If you haven’t already, start studying now. It is so important that you start to manage your exam stress before the exam period. Think about what the next few weeks look like… What do you have coming up? This may include social events, work commitments and continuing to attend class. Where can you allocate time to ensure that you have time to study and revise for your exams? It is best to make a study schedule now, to make sure you are not cramming in the couple of days leading up to exams. A little bit each day NOW, leading up to your exams, will mean you are not stressing and cramming in the couple of days before.

When you are stressed you may feel irritable, have trouble sleeping or you may lash out at the people around you. It might be helpful to tell family or friends that you are currently doing exams so they understand you may experience some stress or anxiety. It is also important to ground yourself and to find opportunities to relax each day.

Studying and cramming 24/7 is not going to help in this situation. A good strategy is to study for a period of time, usually 45 minutes to an hour, with a plan of what you want to cover in that time. Then take a short break to unwind and relax and come back to study later. The aim is to follow a study plan, and when that has been achieved you reward yourself and then come back to it at a later time with a fresh perspective.

Some suggestions for from other students include going to the gym, taking a walk, grabbing a coffee with a friend, or simply turn on some music.

Feeling overwhelmed at this time of year is completely understandable. Along with finding time to relax during the day, is also ensuring you are able to wind down at night and get a good night sleep. This doesn’t mean you have to go to bed at 7pm every night, but simple things like not watching Netflix until 3am will help. You may also want to consider not using your phone for the 1 hr before bed – Facebook can be checked tomorrow!

The night before your exam, you will have all of your revision notes done, and you will not be cramming, right?? If you follow these strategies, you will do great! The night before, look over your notes before dinner and then enjoy something nice and healthy for dinner, try and avoid alcohol.

It is important to acknowledge and accept the uncomfortable thoughts feelings you may have leading up to and during the exam. If you ignore them, they can become worse. Remember, these feelings will pass. Acknowledge the sensation and then focus your attention on your breathing, or your feet on the floor and say to yourself, “Its ok. I can do this”, then return to undergoing the exam. For more information about how to remain calm during your exam, check out the Exam Anxiety Tip Sheet.

Good luck!


Perffectionism

 

Have you ever found yourself sitting staring at a blank page, unable to get started?

Do you put off starting your assessment (or piece of work for your PhD supervisor) until the last minute because you feel overwhelmed with anxiety about doing it right?

Did you notice the spelling mistake in the title?

If you answered yes to these questions, you might recognise that you struggle with procrastination, but you may not realise that perfectionism might be one of the underlying reasons for the procrastination.

Perfectionism is one of the most common causes of anxiety and procrastination in university students; however, it is concept that is often misunderstood. Often people believe that being perfectionistic means to be a ‘high achiever’, or think that avoidance or procrastination are due to ‘being lazy’ – this is often not true.

 

So what is perfectionism?

Perfectionism has three main components –

  • The relentless striving for extremely high standards
  • Judging your self-worth based largely on your ability to strive for and achieve such unrelenting standards
  • Experiencing negative consequences of setting such demanding standards, yet continuing to go for them despite the cost.

Perfectionism tends to be driven by a fear of making mistakes, and beliefs that mistakes might make you less successful, likeable or even less worthy, or sometimes that mistakes will lead to some unspecified catastrophic outcome.

Some people may strive to be perfect in only one part of their life, such as studies, at work, or appearance. Others may strive to be perfect in many or all areas of their life. This article will just focus on perfectionism in an academic setting.

 

What does perfectionism look like?

Perfectionism can generally go one of two ways – overcompensation or avoidance. It is not uncommon for people to flip between both.

Overcompensation might involve the following:

  • repeatedly writing and re-writing sentences
  • repeatedly looking over work searching for errors
  • asking others to check your work repeatedly
  • endlessly creating lists and timetables
  • not letting others do any of the work because you are afraid that tasks won’t be done properly
  • focusing on small details at the expense of the bigger picture
  • collecting too much information at the expense of starting writing

Alternatively, this pressure to reach such high standards can be paralysing, and so striving for this often leads to procrastination, avoidance or even giving up. This often looks like:

  • difficulty getting started on assessments
  • not attempting an exam or assessment because you are sure your won’t do well enough
  • handing in your work late
  • not starting an assessment until the last minute so that if you don’t do well it is not a reflection of your ability,
  • distracting yourself with YouTube or Facebook (or anything else) as a way of coping
  • being unable to make a decision
  • not handing in an assessment at the due date because it is not ‘perfect’, even though you have a completed piece of work.

People who can be perfectionistic can easily end up stuck in a vicious cycle where their self-worth is tied up with achievement, leading them to set unrealistic goals. When they fail to reach these goals, they might feel depressed and lethargic and a deep sense of failure, which reinforces their need to meet their high standards to feel ok.

Sometimes, when they do actually achieve the standards they set for themselves, they dismiss that goal as not being important or difficult enough, or simply being a fluke, and so get no satisfaction from the achievement. They might then set their standards even higher.

 

Is perfectionism good or bad?

People often have good reasons for being perfectionistic, such as the feeling of satisfaction of being top of the class, or always feeling prepared or in control, or receiving praise from family or friends when you do well (or avoiding criticism). However the paradox of perfectionism is that sometimes these standards can actually impair performance (such as when it leads to avoidance or procrastination), or meeting the standards may come at a huge cost to your emotional wellbeing, relationship, physical health, or other aspects of your life. Perfectionism can lead to burnout, as well as increasing risk for mood, anxiety and eating disorders.

“But [I hear you say]… if I let go of my high standards, won’t I end up not caring at all or doing nothing? How will I have any direction in life?”

It is important to remember that there is a vast difference between striving for excellence and demanding perfection. In a nutshell, healthy striving is more about being motivated by your passion for learning (rather than a fear of failure), putting in your best effort within a reasonable time frame that still allows you to live a balanced life, learning to be ok with failure if it does occur, and knowing that you are still a worthwhile person regardless of your achievements.

 

 

What can you do about perfectionism?

If you decide that you want to change, then here are a few ideas to try:

  • Recognise the signs– the first step is to get to know what perfectionism looks like for you. Consider what behaviours, thoughts and feelings you experience that signal perfectionism might be around, so you can identify perfectionism when it is occurring.

 

  • Decide whether you want to let go of perfectionism – This might sound straight forward, but it can be difficult to let go of the high standards because doing so might involve being willing to experience the anxiety that might come with trying a different approach. It might be useful to note down the costs and benefits of a perfectionism habit. For example, “I really like doing things well, but I have no free time.” What is it about perfectionism that causes the most problems for you?

 

  • Ask yourself: “Does telling myself that it has to be perfect help me to be effective and get things done on time?” “Does focusing on one failure and ignoring all my achievements increase my chances of being successful in the future?… Or does it have the opposite effect?

 

  • Start with a “Shitty First Draft” – If you are stuck staring at a blank page, try to shift your expectations – aim for just writing a “shitty first draft”. Just let the words come out however they choose and don’t focus on making it perfect at the outset. You could even adopt a sense of humour about it and award a ‘worst sentence of the day’. At the end of the day you may not have a masterpiece, but perhaps you will have something that is ‘good enough’.

 

  • Experiment with your standards – Choose any activity and instead of aiming for 100%, try aiming for 90%, 80%, or 70% success. Consider, what perfectionistic behaviour would you like to do less of? What other things would you like to do more of in your life? e.g., time with friends, different interests etc.

 

  • Notice some unhelpful thinking styles that tend to fuel perfectionism. For example,
    • All-or-nothing thinking: “If I don’t get a distinction, then I don’t deserve to graduate
    • Shoulds: e.g., “I should study for three hours every night no matter what happens.
    • Mental filter – noticing and focusing on only the mistakes or flaws but dismissing all of the parts of your work that are correct
    • Catastrophising: e.g., “If I don’t get a distinction in this assignment, then I will never get a good job and my life will be over.”

 

  • Finished is more important than perfectthis short clip highlights why finishing a project is way more important than having something that is perfect, but not finished.

 

  • Reasonable standards – Try to identify a more reasonable or flexible expectations for yourself, such as “I prefer to do a good job, but if it is not perfect it is still adequate for what is required here.” While this idea is simple, it can be hard to actually follow through with, and you might need to repeatedly remember to come back to the reasonable standard and be patient with yourself.

 

  • You are more than your grades – Try to challenge the idea that failing at uni means that you are a failure as a person. For example, consider “If I fail at uni, it is not a reflection of my whole self. My whole self includes….”. As with the previous point, a simple concept, but not easy to do.

 

Perfectionism can be a complex beast to tackle, so if you have had a go at some of these strategies but are still struggling, please don’t go it alone. Talk to friends, family, or supervisors, and don’t hesitate to contact us here at UON Counselling.

 

For further information on Perfectionism –

Center for Clinical Interventions has some very informative and free brief tips sheets, or a series of self-help modules that look at perfectionism in more detail

When Perfect isn’t Good Enough – Book by Antony Martin

When Perfect isn’t Good Enough – TED talk by Antony Martin


Managing end-of-semester Stress

So it is week 10 (nearly week 11), getting towards the pointy end of semester, and many of you may be feeling the squeeze with lots of assessments due and exams on the horizon. Chances are that you might be experiencing some feelings of anxiety and stress – this is a completely normal human response!

Alternatively, some of you might take the more “bury my head in the sand” approach and try to avoid thinking about everything/anything. There is no shame in this, it is just a way of coping that most of us will have used at some point in time. However, most of us will acknowledge that this approach has its downsides (no pun intended) – tasks pile up and feel even more overwhelming or we might miss deadlines. And the truth is, that this approach is usually also a sign that you are feeling a bit overwhelmed or anxious.

So, say you are able to recognise that there is some anxiety going on for you at the moment – then what? What can you do with this anxiety?

Well as with most things, there are a few different options, and different things work for different people.

Some options for managing intense anxiety might include relaxation strategies like grounding yourself in the present moment using your senses, slowing your breathing rate, progressive muscle relaxation or using some guided mindfulness exercises. A couple of good apps for mindfulness and breathing include Breathe2Relax, headspace, and Smiling mind.

On the other hand, you might like to try to change your relationship with the anxiety. Rather than fighting or struggling to get rid of or avoid the anxiety, you could try making space for the feelings and being willing to experience them in order to work towards something that is important to you. Being willing to experience uncomfortable emotions can mean your actions are guided by your values, rather than avoiding discomfort.

For some people, much of their stress might come from getting caught up with thoughts about the work needing to be done perfectly or to a really high standard. This can be impossible (or come at the cost of your mental or physical health) when you have a number of things due at the same time, and for some people it can lead to being paralysed and not handing in anything at all. If this sounds like you, then you might like to have a look at some of these resources on perfectionism, and consider what would be more reasonable or helpful expectations for your work, taking into consideration all the demands on you at the moment. Remember – you are a human not a machine!

The key thing with managing your stress, is to give something (or a few different things) a try, and see what works for you. And remember – you are nearly there!

Stay tuned to the blog for more on perfectionism and other ways to manage anxiety in the coming weeks.


The material or views expressed on this Blog are those of the author and do not represent those of the University.  Please report any offensive or improper use of this Blog to RPS@newcastle.edu.au.
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