10 Steps to Take If You Can’t Function Anymore While in College
Why you can trust Lightfully Behavioral Health?

Lightfully’s professional culture is designed to keep everyone connected, motivated and nutured. Why is this so important? We believe the way we treat our employees is how we show up for clients – through encouragement, honesty, and compassion.

Clinically Reviewed 
Reading Time: 5 minutes

College is supposed to be an exciting journey, a time for new experiences, opportunities and personal growth. However, it can also be a time full of unexpected challenges. You can be overwhelmed and have a difficult time managing your responsibilities and daily activities. You may feel the pressure to excel academically, manage new social relationships and navigate your new independence. You may feel like you’re sinking in quicksand, struggling and losing your ability to cope with stress. You’re constantly overwhelmed, struggling to stay focused, your motivation disappears and you may feel emotionally drained. If you find yourself feeling this way, you’re not alone. If you’re struggling to function, you may be dealing with unexpectedly high levels of stress from the rigors and changes in college life, anxiety, depression, or burnout.

Many college students experience symptoms of burnout. Burnout is a state of emotional, physical and mental exhaustion. It can be caused by excessive or extended amounts of stress. It can happen when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained and unable to meet the constant demands of college life. Burnout can present in a number of ways including:

  • Feeling tired all the time
  • Experiencing frequent headaches or other physical symptoms
  • Feeling cynical or detached from your work or studies
  • Having a sense of ineffectiveness or a lack of accomplishment

For college students, burnout usually is triggered by the pressure to:

  • Excel academically
  • Manage multiple responsibilities
  • Navigate new social environments

Burnout can be made worse by factors like:

  • Perfectionist tendencies
  • Lack of social support
  • Unrealistic expectations

Burnout can have a significant impact on a college student’s well-being, academic performance and overall quality of life. The good news is there are steps you can take to help you regain control and find the support you need to cope with these challenges.

Reasons why you may be struggling to function

Being overwhelmed and feeling like you can’t function anymore can lead to burnout. However, burnout can be a treatable experience. If you can identify the underlying issues leading to burnout, you can learn effective coping strategies or treatments to help you overcome the struggle to function. The reason(s) you’re feeling like you can’t function anymore could be due to:

  • Depression — If you’re struggling with depression, it can make daily activities challenging to do. Depression is characterized by feelings of hopelessness, fatigue and difficulty concentrating.
  • Anxiety — Intense feelings of anxiety can overwhelm you and interfere with your ability to function. Struggling to function can cause you excessive worry and fear or even lead you to avoid certain situations. 
  • Trauma — If you’ve experienced traumatic events in your past, unresolved issues could impact your ability to function, causing you to have symptoms like flashbacks, hypervigilance and difficulty with relationships.
  • Physical health issues — If you are struggling with certain physical health conditions like chronic pain or illness, it could also impact your mental well-being. This impact can then affect your ability to function. 

Effective strategies that can help you cope when you’re struggling

Having strategies in place before you become overwhelmed is great. It’s also possible to add strategies to cope when you’re in the depths of feeling like you can’t function anymore. By adopting any of these strategies, you can work to regain control of your life and begin to thrive academically and personally:

  • Reach out for support — You don’t have to do this alone. Reaching out for support is crucial. Turn to a trusted friend, family member, your academic adviser or anyone you trust. Talking to a trusted person about how you’re feeling can provide you with emotional relief and a different perspective on the situation.
  • Consider professional help — Colleges often have counseling services or you can reach out to a therapist. Working with a therapist can help you gain insights into your emotions, develop effective coping skills and work toward fixing the root cause of your struggles. Reaching out for help is a sign of strength and resilience. 
  • Prioritize self-care — When you’re struggling to function, you can be quick to shove self-care on the back burner. However, it’s essential to prioritize your well-being to help you manage stress and maintain your overall health. Make time for activities that can help you relax and recharge. You can take a walk, practice mindfulness or do a hobby you enjoy. It’s also important to make sure you’re eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly and getting enough sleep. Taking care of your physical and mental health is the foundation for you to build your coping skills on.
  • Break down tasks into manageable parts — Even simple tasks can become daunting when you’re overwhelmed. It can help to break down your responsibilities into smaller, more manageable steps. Try making a to-do list and prioritizing your tasks based on importance. You can make more progress when you break down larger tasks, and it can also reduce the feeling of overwhelm. Make sure you celebrate each accomplishment along the way!
  • Avoid comparison — College can be an extremely competitive environment, and sometimes it can seem like you’re the only one who doesn’t have things “figured out.” The fact is, everyone is in the process of figuring things out, and what works for one person won’t necessarily work for you. Comparing yourself to others can be distracting and hinder your ability to find your own unique path and achievements. Setting goals based on others’ accomplishments and priorities will create misalignment in your life. Avoiding comparisons will lead to a more positive self-perception and greater satisfaction. It can also help reduce feelings of inadequacy and improve your mental well-being.
  • Set realistic goals — It can be easy to set unrealistic expectations for yourself and for these to make you feel stressed and inadequate. Be honest about what you can realistically accomplish with your current mental health level. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you have to adjust goals as you go. It’s also completely OK to ask for help and focus on progress over achieving perfection.
  • Establish healthy boundaries — In college, students often encounter situations that challenge their existing boundaries and require them to set new ones. Once you know your limits, maintaining boundaries is crucial for self-care, respect, authenticity and balance. It helps you prioritize your well-being, communicate your needs to others, stay true to yourself and maintain a healthy balance in life. 
  • Seek academic support — Don’t hesitate to reach out to your professors or academic advisers if your academic demands are contributing to your inability to function. They are there to help you succeed in your educational journey. They can provide you with guidance, share resources or make accommodations to help you. Advocating for yourself can help you get the support you need.
  • Practice stress management techniques — Learning how to manage your stress effectively can help you cope with the challenges of college life and beyond. Try out different techniques like yoga, meditation, deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation. When you find one or more that work best for you, incorporate them into your daily routine. 
  • Remember that it’s OK to take a break — Sometimes, the best gift you can give yourself in times of struggle is to take a step back and prioritize your mental health. If you’ve hit your breaking point and feel so overwhelmed that you can’t function, it’s OK to take a break from your studies. You can take a temporary leave of absence, reduce your course load or even take a semester off. Whatever you choose can help you give yourself time to rest and recuperate. Your well-being should always come first. 

Struggling to function while in college can be a common experience. Lightfully U can help you learn how to cope

When you’re facing the challenges of college life, you can find reassurance that Lightfully U is in your corner to offer support and guidance. Through our unique approach of process-based therapy (PBT), we can help you on your journey of self-discovery and growth. We provide holistic and personalized care that can help you uncover the underlying issues and equip you with coping strategies to help you find balance and well-being. 

Change is possible. When you’re ready to take the first step, reach out to our Admissions Concierge Team. We’ll take the next steps together, toward the fullest, brightest version of you.

Connect with Admissions

Related Content