With the winter semester now wrapping up, I’ve found myself more stressed than ever. Fears about keeping my GPA high enough while working part time while also volunteering while trying to make time to take care of myself has been causing my head to feel constantly occupied. So full that often the thoughts of stress take up energy that could otherwise go towards actually working on my studies. I shouldn’t be so stressed. I’ve dealt with all of this before, in a pandemic no less. My grades are good enough, I’ve always finished things on time, and I haven’t gone broke yet.

So why do I feel like I can’t do it? Why do I feel like I cannot accomplish now what I’ve accomplished in the past?

Allow me to introduce you to imposter syndrome. The lovely website Wikipedia defines imposter syndrome as “a psychological occurrence in which an individual doubts their skills, talents, or accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud” (Impostor Syndrome, n.d.). Achievements and successes are thought to be due to luck, not to hard work or actual qualities you possess. 

When I sit back and think a bit more about when I started to feel this way, I’d say it was with the shift from online school to in person. Starting university in Fall 2020, I spent the first year and a half basically all online. Multiple courses had open book assessments and I could do school from the comfort of my own home without the hour long commute to school. So with courses now in person and not open book, I’m fearful that I only succeeded because I was great at writing super comprehensive notes and using COMMAND F. 

Despite establishing exactly what imposter syndrome was and when I started to experience it, I still had no idea how to start addressing why I was dealing with it and how to make the situation better. But then, almost like it was meant to be, I found out that Rowan Morris knew quite a bit about imposter syndrome. Rowan is the Outreach Coordinator at the University of Alberta’s Peer Support Center (PSC). They first became interested in imposter syndrome as it was something they had dealt with personally, specifically when they were first offered their current position at the PSC. 

So what causes it?
In regards to the causes of imposter syndrome, Rowan explained that it can help to take a step back and to understand that imposter syndrome is a symptom of burnout, and can result when we are facing stress and have insecurities. We can express this as a formula: stress + insecurity = imposter syndrome. Essentially, the stress of burnout in conjunction with feelings of insecurity (arising from low self esteem, negative self talk or hearing criticisms from others), can result in imposter syndrome. Consequently, the only way we can rationalize why we've been given a position or achieved something is to say it was purely luck or a mistake.


Rowan also pointed out that while anyone can experience imposter syndrome under certain conditions, marginalized individuals may be particularly vulnerable to its effects. Since these individuals don’t often see others who look like them or come from similar backgrounds in positions of success, it can become more difficult to understand how they themselves could deserve to be in those positions. As well, new grads are also at risk as they are in a new environment and may not be accustomed to experiencing big successes, such as getting hired or receiving a scholarship.

What can we do?
So we’ve determined what imposter syndrome is, why it occurs, and who is more vulnerable to it, but how can we address it? As Rowan put it, battling imposter syndrome is typically indirect. The first step would be to indulge in self care; the more attention we pay to self care, the easier it is to believe we are deserving of it. It is then that we can translate that feeling of deservingness to other areas in our lives, such as in settings where we are thinking “I don’t belong.” Next, we can attempt to alleviate feelings of burnout by minimizing certain stressors in our lives. For instance, taking time away from volunteering, extracurriculars, or reducing social commitments if necessary. During this time, it can also be useful to think about the feelings you are experiencing. By taking a moment to look inwards, it can help clear our minds in terms of what we need to do next. 


If all this sounds overwhelming, that’s completely okay. One place to start could be our very own Peer Support Center (PSC). The PSC offers supportive listening which can help guide individuals through understanding their own emotions. As well, the PSC has plenty of resources that can help give some direction in terms of next steps to take. Additionally, for members of the 2SLGBTQ+ community, The Landing — also located in the Student Union Building — can help individuals gain security in their identity which can help with feelings of stress and undeservingness. For international students, the International Student Association can also provide support for individuals feeling out of place in a new city, province, country, or continent.  

To finish off, Rowan added that “You don’t need to feel guilty for your success and it’s okay to feel proud of yourself… if that doesn’t help… and if you can’t trust yourself, trust who put you there.”

The journey to overcoming imposter syndrome will not look the same for everyone, but even the little things can help. In terms of my situation, since beginning this blog post I’ve been focusing on my self care. In particular, I’ve been baking cupcakes and cookies, working out more, and trying to watch a movie and cuddle up with blankets at least once a week.

If you are struggling to think of some ways to participate in self care, I asked individuals volunteering at the PSC about their favourite forms of self care, and here were some of the results: 

  • Scheduling time to watch a movie or TV series and making a nice meal to enjoy while watching it 

  • Lighting a candle and reading a book

  • Relaxing and listening to music

  • Calling a friend or family member

  • Cleaning

  • General baking or cooking

  • Dancing 

  • Taking a nap

  • Treating myself to things like Starbucks or Boba

  • Getting my nails or hair done

  • Going to the gym or hot yoga

  • Shopping

  • Taking a relaxing shower in the dark

  • Trying new restaurants or coffee shops

  • Going on walks

  • Meditating, journaling, praying, writing poetry

  • Doing a deep skin care routine or having a spa night

  • Enjoying a good cup of coffee or tea


As well, you can check out this link to a self-care playlist created by the PSC on Spotify to listen to when relaxing, studying, or whenever.

On a closing note, you got this. You are great, you are capable, you are strong. Go seize the day.


Author Bio
Madison Vanderland (she/her) is in her third year of psychology at the University of Alberta and this is her first year with the Peer Support Center. In her free time, she enjoys writing, cooking, and beating friends in Mario Kart Wii.