Managing expectations & a disappointing result
15 June 2022
For many people, university is an exciting time filled with new experiences, new people, and new achievements. However, a study by the National Union of Students found that 9 in 10 students experience stress, lack of motivation, and panic during their time at university.
Why is this? Although there are many reasons why students might experience these feelings, a common theme in all research is expectations. For international students in particular, who are living far away from familiar surroundings and usual support systems, the pressure of expectations can be magnified.
Some of the types of expectations and pressures on students include:
- Academic: University is a big step up academically for many students. The work can often be more difficult than previously experienced, there is a lot more independence and less guidance, and there are multiple deadlines to be balanced at one time. Getting to university is a big achievement, and many students feel the need to do well to make sure they are fully utilising their time studying. This can lead to a lot of stress and pressure.
- Social: There is often a pressure to make great friends at university and have a good social life. However, this isn’t always possible. For some students, things might not work out with flatmates or coursemates, or maybe they don’t enjoy nightlife and/or socialising is not always This can lead to a lot of students feeling like they aren’t making the most of the “university experience”.
- Career: There can be a lot of pressure to make sure work is secured after finishing uni, and many hold the idea that university gives you more chance of securing work, which is not always the case. The job market is becoming increasingly competitive, and many students struggle to find work after For a lot of people, not being able to find work after finishing uni can lead to feelings of disappointment, worry, and uncertainty. There is also often the expectation that students will find work in their field of study. However, this isn’t always right for all students, and some students might feel unsure about what career they want in general. Before we even get to university, there can also be huge pressure to know what you want to do and have it all figured out.
- Financial: For a lot of students, university is the first time they might be financially responsible. It can be really difficult to budget, and money is a really common Many students might also be expected to find part-time work to fund their studies.
Whether placed on you by friends, family, lecturers, or yourself, having multiple expectations on yourself can lead to stress and exhaustion and ultimately dampen your university experience.
Managing a disappointing result
At result time, stress from expectations can become even more pronounced. When there’s nothing left you can do but wait for a result, the lack of control or meaningful action can feel stark and overwhelming. When you receive a result that wasn’t quite what you hoped for, that stress might begin to feel truly unmanageable.
When Martin* received a merit for his master’s degree instead of the distinction he had hoped for, he struggled to reconcile the result he received with the result he had expected from himself.
“I felt like I’d let myself down,” he says. “But now, after reflecting on it over time, I realise that my result was the wake-up call I needed at the time. I had gotten complacent about my studies, my writing, and my research and expecting to get excellent results without putting in the necessary work. I’m a much better academic now, as a PhD student, as a result.”
In Martin’s case, he decided to use his disappointing result as a learning experience. He chose to examine his faults and move on determined to do better next time, growing as a result. While it was a difficult experience, he says, it also helped him realise that one disappointment or even outright failure isn’t the end of the world. Everyone fails at meeting a goal sometimes, and the best thing to do for himself was to use the disappointment for self-examination and self-improvement.
This can be easier said than done, however, especially when the sting of overwhelm or let down is really bogging us down in the moment. Read on for some of our recommendations on how to cope with stress and disappointment before it reaches a tipping point.
*Martin is a pseudonym for anonymity
Handle the immediate stress
If you have several pressures placed on you for a long period of time, every day can start to feel really stressful and overwhelming. This can make it difficult to focus, which can make achieving your goals even more difficult.
The first thing that may help is handling that immediate stress so that you can start to think more clearly. This involves taking things one step at a time and breaking the worries down into smaller, manageable steps.
Set short-term goals
It can be difficult to know where to start when you feel an overwhelming amount of stress and pressure.
Rather than thinking about the bigger picture and all of your stressors at once (as this might cause more stress), try to break your thoughts down into smaller, short-term goals. This might include scheduling a meeting with a uni counsellor to talk through your post-degree options or creating a CV to start a job search.
Setting smaller goals will help you break down your worries and only focus on the issues at hand. Additionally, having smaller goals that are more achievable may help to boost your confidence.
It is natural for many of us to compare ourselves to others. However, university is a performance-driven environment, and it can often feel like everyone else is achieving. This might make you feel left behind if you are not getting the results you wanted. This applies for socialising, too - it might feel like everyone else is having an amazing time, and that you are the only one who is struggling.
However, no circumstances are the same, and there are many reasons why students differ in their social life or studies.
Although easier said than done, try not to compare what you are doing to other people. It’s important to remember that people tend to only share the good parts of their experience and what they are happy for others to see. What we see from others doesn’t always represent the full story of their experience.
When you catch yourself comparing yourself to others, ask yourself, “Is this helping me or harming me?”. More often than not, you will find out that comparing yourself to others is not beneficial for you.
When you have lots of pressures and stressors, you might be more focused on what is not going so well in life. Practicing gratitude can help you to identify and acknowledge some of the positive parts of life and the things you are grateful for.
One way you can start doing this is through keeping a gratitude diary. This involves taking time each day to notice what you are grateful for. These don’t necessarily have to be big things; they can be small elements of your day that make you happy, such as a good phone call, a nice coffee, or even listening to music.
It may take some practice, but this is a great way to give your brain a break from worrying and, over time, you might start to feel better about things happening around you.
Identify what you cannot control
One way you can start to take some of the pressure off yourself is by identifying what you can and cannot control. Some of the things that are out your control might include:
- The job market
- Clashing deadlines
- What other people think of you
- Your home circumstances
Over time, helping to identify what you cannot control may lead to feeling more at ease towards some elements of your life.
Talk to Others
Talking to others and having a coffee catch up about how you are feeling can be a great way to relieve some of those pent-up feelings. The aparto team are always on hand to talk. You might also find that others around you are feeling the same way, which might make you feel less alone. If you don’t want to talk to others, keeping a journal is another way to release some of those feelings.
Although pressure at university is very normal, feeling under constant stress can affect our mental health. It can be a cause or a symptom of mental health difficulties, such as anxiety and depression. If your feelings are becoming unmanageable or occurring every day, reach out to your GP to see if they can direct you to some support. Your university may also be able to help you.
Where can you look for extra support?
For more articles on this and lots more, head to Kooth Student. Kooth Student is a free, anonymous, B ACP-accredited mental health and wellbeing support service. The site has hundreds of helpful articles like this one, plus tools such as a goal tracker, online journal, and discussion boards, where you can receive and offer support to others. It also gives you access to a team of professional mental health practitioners who you can chat to online, anonymously, one to one, and is FREE to aparto residents! Link can be found on your residence Facebook page or at reception.