It’s OK to Feel Overwhelmed: An Interview With Sheelu


Zoē Garvey

Many of the students decorated their caps with what their Souhegan experience was like or what their plans are for the future.

Hello fellow stress-heads, no-sleepers, always-going, never-stopping, keep-it-moving people.  As the pandemic wears on, I thought there was nothing more relevant to write about than student health and wellness. Especially this year, where school and life and everything else is making a meander back to quasi-normalcy (no, the pandemic isn’t over yet), I think we may all find ourselves in a perpetual state of overload. As stressful as this may be, it’s also fun and exciting because it means doing and seeing the activities and people we love most after a year and a half of boring chaos. At the end of the day, I’m just glad to be back at school in person and to see the friends and teachers I missed the most.  

To debut the student health column, I thought it fitting to interview Souhegan’s own smile-setting social worker, Sheelu Joshi-Flegal.  Since 2013, Sheelu’s been working closely with the SHS community and knows our culture better than anyone.  When I asked her what she’s seen as the biggest change in the Souhegan environment since March 2020, she didn’t hesitate in saying that it’s a lot more tense than it’s been in past years.  Student growth and natural progression have been thrown off, and Sophomores, Juniors, and Seniors are feeling it the most. The pandemic is setting a shifted precedent in which no student currently at Souhegan has gotten to partake in key Souhegan experiences, such as the Sophomore Wintercession trip.  Teachers and staff—most of whom have worked at Souhegan for most of their careers—have also had to deal with a cultural change, and even maintaining classroom morale has surely been difficult.  “Everyone brings their own worries,” Sheelu said, “and our triangle of needs has been shifted.”


For our seniors, Sheelu elaborated on some key stressors that have us all feeling like we’re being pulled in seven directions at once; Common App, post-grad plans, financial profiles, FAFSA, scholarships, grades, SAT scores, college visits, staying on top of classwork, the list goes on and on.  Not to mention all the extracurriculars, sports, and clubs we’re catching up with after the months we spent unable to be very involved.  For those planning on attending college next year, Sheelu emphasized that “it’s normal to be nervous”, and that the decisions we make this year will be some of the biggest we’ve ever faced.  She also made the clear distinction between healthy and unhealthy stress, saying that feeling the pressure to, for example, fill out the Common App and to actively reach out to colleges, military schools and art programs is good, and that burnout comes when stress becomes “paralyzing”.  


To keep on this trend, Sheelu reiterated the importance of getting eight hours of sleep each night, something she’s been adamant about during Saber Spotlight since the beginning of this year.  “It’s important to find times of rest.  It’s restorative.”  She also reinforced that some of us are stretching ourselves too thin; trying to take four APs, be in multiple clubs, play sports, have jobs and find time to be with friends all while applying to college. I woefully admit to being one of these students, and Sheelu said the lost time during the peak of COVID is partially to blame.  “Balance is key… think about what you can take off the plate.” We face a lot of pressure from admissions officers, our parents, and administrators to be ‘well-rounded individuals’, but it’s important to remember that doing a hundred things while only giving half our effort sometimes isn’t worth our time or energy.  Sheelu also added that high school only happens once, and that while we should be making the most of the opportunities we get, we also need to take it easy sometimes and let it all soak in; it’s our year of lasts, class of 2022!


Finally, I asked Sheelu for her number one tip for seniors’ success as we move into a more normal school year.  Coming off of last year’s remote style, Sheelu told me, we have to “reinvent [our] organization”, and to find what works for us.  For me, I now have an excuse to get another journal, but for some this may look like typing in the Notes app or color-coding activities on Google Calendar.  If we can stay on top of things, it’s harder for them to come crashing down around us; though it’s bound to happen at some point this year, it’s a situation we’d all like to avoid.  Tied with that is self care, something Sheelu was adamant about– “Take care of yourself… be ok with not being productive.”  Some of Sheelu’s favorite methods of mental relaxation include long walks, calm morning routines, and ten minutes of mindfulness.  Meditation is also a highlight of hers, and can be done through activities like yoga, but also with apps such as Headspace and Calm.


I think the main purpose of this piece is just to remind everyone that, yes, this year is meant to be challenging, but we’re also facing difficulties that didn’t used to exist before March of 2020.  I think that, to some extent, it’s important to stay busy and to feel the adrenaline rush of healthy stress, especially after such a long period of stagnation.  But it’s equally important to be mindful of the fact that our social batteries and time restraints sometimes keep us grounded, and those limits should be respected.  Like Sheelu likes to say, “Refill your cup… and find some peace.”