The Consequences of Overloading in University: My Experience

Hello everyone, in this article, I will try to convince you not to take up too many responsibilities in university because of how detrimental this can be to your well-being. This is probably an overdrawn topic, seeing as stress and mental health wellness are being emphasised more to students. However, I know the temptations of opportunities can be very strong, especially during university.

University seems like the perfect time to take up as many opportunities as possible — whether it’s within the school, hall or even outside. We’re young, we have the energy, and (sometimes we think) the time. However, how much time do we actually have? I guess it all depends on our course; our main responsibility is being a student, after all.

My Experience:

I study Philosophy at NTU, so it’s not exactly as intensive as other courses like EEE or Computer Science. Sure, we have a lot of readings to do, but the max number of AUs I can take per semester is 17 AUs: other courses can go up to 22 AUs before overloading. Therefore, it’s safe to say that I have a lot of time outside my studies.

This means I should have enough time to balance my coursework, studying and other things, right? By this logic, I should have time to take up more responsibilities. That was what I thought too.

For the past two years, I have, in a sense, been overloading myself with more and more responsibilities outside of my studies. The scary fact is that it’s almost like a testament to my capabilities after it’s all over. It’s a mix of feeling  ‘I survived those few months with that much on my plate, so that means I can do it again’ and thoughts of ‘how did I survive during that time?’

In Year 1, I planned on being a phantom, so I didn’t really sign up for many CCAs. I was only part of 1 main committee and 1 sub-committee within my hall, and another sub-committee from my CCA. However, my sub-committee in hall was the dance team, also known as Srethgie. Training for HOCC with Srethgie took up quite a lot of time, and it was very tiring. I was surprised with practices 5 days a week that lasted up till 3AM. However, it was something that I eventually got used to, and I love the team, so it’s not something that I regret.

In hindsight, I admit that I didn’t realise how exhausted I was then. Like any other university student, I lacked sleep. However, due to my unfamiliarity with Srethgie’s schedule, I had a lot of morning classes when we were preparing for our HOCC performance. I went to class tired (if I even woke up on time for them), I would take random naps on benches around campus, and my mind was capable of listening to a 3-hour long lecture for ‘Intro to Psychology.’

I remember even my ex-roommate telling me that she was worried about me because of how exhausted I looked, and there were even times I fainted in the toilet because of exhaustion. The reality is that no matter how much I look back on those times with rose-tinted glasses because of how much fun I had with my friends, I was burnt out. I can’t speak for my friends, but I know there are others that experience a similar kind of burnout because of their own responsibilities to school, internship, CCAs or family.

You would think I would have learnt how to manage my time better after all that, but the answer is no. Instead, I saw it as a challenge: if I could do it once, I could do it again, and I could do more. This year I was part of 1 main committee and 4 sub-committees in my hall, 1 main committee for my NTU CCA, and 2 different internships for Semester 1 and Semester 2, respectively. It sounds crazy, I know, but I am sure there are people out there with even more on their plate than I do.

In Semester 1, I tried to do a full-time internship whilst studying, and I was slated to perform for a concert outside of NTU. On top of my CCAs and my studies, this took a toll on both my physical and mental health.

The Consequences I Experienced:

I think people often forget that some mental and physical health aspects are intertwined. When we’re stressed, it affects our mental health because we are worried and anxious, or we start to get mood swings. It’s just hard to calm down and relax during those times.

However, when we’re stressed, it also raises our cortisol levels and affects our physical health.

For example, we might start feeling extremely fatigued or suffer bad headaches. The stress from all my responsibilities in Semester 1 affected my immune system, and I wasn’t even that busy compared to Semester 2.

I was sick every other week, and every time my sickness returned it seemed worse. I remember a day when I couldn’t get out of bed. Having moved into a single room this year, I didn’t have the luxury of a roommate to look after me the way my ex-roommate did before. Sure, I had friends that lived in the same block that checked up on me, but I felt like a burden because of how often it was happening.

I remember having to miss classes, internship, dance sharings, and hangouts with my friends during this time. Of course, my sickness wasn’t directly caused by the stress of my responsibilities but by something else. The stress, however, certainly did not help me keep healthy.

Therefore, I decided to cut out two things I knew I could control to focus on my health. I dropped out of the concert and quit my part-time internship because of how much my mental and physical health were suffering. Things slowly improved as the semester went on, but some of that heaviness that I felt earlier in the semester persisted until the semester break.

During the semester break, my other responsibilities, such as HO training, and my 2nd try for internship started to pick up. This time, I planned to take a credit-bearing semester internship to try and take a break from my studies. However, I was still very much active in my other CCAs — or at least I tried to. There were times I had to choose; being a part of many different things, they inevitably clashed at one point. Therefore, I had to decide which to prioritise or if there was a possibility to compromise and prioritise both.

My health was better, but my old injury acted up whilst training for HOCC. I admit I am guilty to ignoring my own needs because I’m so distracted by everything else that I chose to be a part of.

The Decisions I Made:

As health was something I needed to prioritise, I considered dropping out of HOCC. My weak immune system meant that I needed some operations, and my old injury was acting up. There was a part of me that felt like that would be best for both the team and me. It made sense: if I dropped out, I could focus on myself, and the team wouldn’t be burdened by me when I feel like I couldn’t give my fullest.

However, after informing my captains that I needed to talk to them, I joined the practice for the night and decided to stay. I told them about my situation and my wish to stay, and they compromised by taking me out of some items so that I won’t push myself too much. I am so grateful to them for letting me stay and to my other dance friends for looking out for and taking care of me during HOCC trainings.

It was my first time asking for help, and that’s something I want to emphasise in this article. You know yourself best, so when you know you can’t handle something, it’s okay to ask for help from those you trust.

For my other CCAs, I started explaining my busy schedule or situation at that moment and asked for help if I couldn’t attend a meeting. While I could have done more, I am confident that I gave all I could during those moments. I just wish I had given more, but I wasn’t capable of it at that time.

What about my internship? I did the same. I asked my intern buddy if she could help me every time I had a doctor’s appointment because I couldn’t access my laptop. In return, I tried to help her out as much as I could when I could. It was a little bit easier for me since I only had to be in the office twice a week: during those times, I would use my lunch break to catch up on sleep. This was not the best thing to do, but it was what I needed to do so that I could work properly throughout the day.

To read more about the advice I have for anyone facing a similar situation, click to part 2!

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