Stress is a “fight or flight” response. As students, we hear about deadlines and we panic, pushing ourselves through exam season on little sleep and lots of caffeine so by the end of the term, we are zombies.
Yet studying doesn’t have to be stressful. Here we share tips on how to manage your schoolwork so you can stay sane this term.
Use stress to your advantage
Stress is not always negative. Just like how this quick boost of hormonal energy helped the caveman escape danger, we too can use it to build a healthy work attitude.
Instead of succumbing to pressure, we can turn our stress into motivational energy. A 2013 study by the University of California, Berkeley found that, over time, small amounts of stress can actually improve memory and enhance learning. So while we might panic over looming deadlines, we also tend to work harder.
Multiple studies show that highly self-controlled people make better snap decisions because they can easily distinguish beneficial choices from harmful ones.
To establish self-control, you must know yourself. Determine what your weaknesses are. Do you snack or aimlessly scroll through social media instead of studying? Identify your distractions and lay out clear plans on how you’ll remove them when you study, and when you’ll allow them.
Re-evaluate how you use your time
To organise your time well, break it down. If you have three weeks to complete an assignment, batch the workload into manageable tasks within a set time frame.
The Eisenhower matrix is a practical guide in deciding what to do first. In 1954, former US President Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “I have two kinds of problems: the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.”
On a four-quadrant grid, label the y-axis “important,” and the x-axis “urgent.” Tasks that fall under both categories are placed in the top right quadrant. The bottom right corner contains tasks that are urgent but not necessarily important. The top left corner are high priority tasks with low urgency. And tasks that are not important or urgent go in the last quadrant — these are the time-wasters. You’ll come to realize that all the time you spend on social media can translate into hours of extra studying if eliminated.
Figure out your learning style
Why does your friend excel in exams after re-reading and highlighting the notes for weeks, but you don’t?
Although researchers reject learning styles as a “neuroscience myth,” we each retain information in unique ways. Find out if you learn best using auditory, visual, kinaesthetic or reading/writing methods, and apply those strategies when studying. While memorization can be a precursor to top exam marks, we all have different ways of processing and recalling information.
When the going gets tough, make it fun. Phone apps like Quizlet allow you to interact with virtual flashcards; SimpleMind creates digital mind maps; Memrise combines visuals and text for language learning; and Focus Keeper pulls you away from your phone with the Pomodoro time management method.
Optimize your study space
Your room is your space of comfort. Here, your mind wants to relax, not study – decreasing the chances of productivity. A messy desk may signal a messy mind, so make sure to keep your study areas neat. Light intensity and colours in your work space also impact productivity. Low wavelength colours such as green can encourage restfulness and calm, helping to improve your focus.
Don’t become a victim to your environment, but an architect of it. Feeling stuck? Take your studies elsewhere. You may find that the silent library just isn’t for you and you concentrate better when you are sitting in Waterstones with a cup of freshly brewed coffee and stimulating background noise. Changing up where you study can actually help your brain associate work with your study space of choice.
Stress is hindering, but you are not alone. Should it become unmanageable, there’s a plethora of national charities that exist to help you such as The Mix, Student Minds, Nightline and the Anxiety Alliance from a dozen of others offering support.
Your grades do not define your intelligence. When you are not studying, make time for friends, family and your favourite activities. Stay well-rested, exercise when you can and most importantly, remember the words of the Zimbabwean politician Roy Bennett, “Your only limitations are those you set upon yourself.”