Recent studies show that more than 65% of students feel high to extreme levels of stress. If you’re a current student, this probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise. It might seem that every spare minute (and even minutes you cant spare) is spent worrying – about your current assignments, about your future plans, or even about making a few extra dollars in the meantime.
With study week and finals quickly approaching, you could probably use a few tips to help you manage stress more effectively right about now!
Here are 10 tips for managing your stress (designed for study week!):
(Note: We don’t mind at all if you pass these on to a child or friend or loved one in this situation!)
1) Talk To Your Peers
Many people are afraid of sharing their stress or struggle with their peers. This is usually out of fear of others finding out that you don’t “have it all together” or that you don’t “already know how to do it all perfectly.” The thing is, this is entirely based in fear of being judged. Nearly all students have no proof that their friends or family would think any less of them if they hadn’t started that paper. Yet, fearing shame, they may try to deal with this on your own.
The truth, however, is that stress is completely normal. By having the courage to open up, you’ll likely find that your classmates are dealing with the same issues. Your conversation might even end up helping the person you’re speaking with, as well.
Talking with peers helps you manage your stress, but more importantly, it allows you to learn that those who really care about you will still care just as much for you, whether you have or haven’t started that paper.
Remember, suppressing your emotions or isolating yourself from others will only magnify your stress and make your situation more intolerable.
2) Talk To A Mentor
Perhaps you can speak to a professor, a TA, a grad student, or maybe even a family friend who has encouraged you in the past. Ask him how he prepared for the challenges you’re facing now and managed stress in his life. Ask her how she got through trials similar to what you’re experiencing now. He may even tell you that a couple of things went wrong along the way (and he’s not perfect either!). But in spite of that, here he is in that position you admire him so much for.
Sometimes just being open to a friendly suggestion pays off: I know one thing that helped me immensely in college – in truth I didn’t realize how helpful it was at the time – was some offhand advice an upper class-man gave me about courses I should take together. He suggested taking certain classes that complimented each other, as they would be much easier if taken in the same semester, as opposed to in two separate semesters. It was a little life¬hack (before life-hacks) that was really valuable. (Note to self, look that guy up & thank him, again!)
3) Get Your Vitamin Z!
In other words, get sleep! I realize the temptation to stay up all night to cram before finals is immense. I won’t lie, I’ve pulled the all-nighter myself – and I got off easy & learned my lesson. I’d stayed up cramming for a med school exam in the pre-clinical years, and just started to dose, unwittingly, right at exam start time! If it wasn’t for my med school roommate, who came back from an exam (and therefor lost time on his exam) to wake me up, I’d have slept right through my test and failed.
Sleep is absolutely essential for basic mental functioning. Particularly things like learning, memorizing, judgment, and mood regulation. Skipping sleep not only means you’ll have a much tougher time focusing, memorizing, or incorporating new concepts (i.e. learning), you’ll feel more irritable, you’ll be in a bad mood, and you’ll actually end up feeling MORE stressed.
Plus, your judgment will be poor, and continue to get worse the longer you are sleep deprived (so you’re more likely to pick the wrong answer on a multiple choice question that you have to guess on if you’ve not slept). And, the lack of sleep will compound upon itself. You will tend to make serially worse decisions as you move through a sleep deprived study week. DON’T DO IT!
4) Practice Self-Care (especially now)
I realize this may seem totally counter-intuitive, as you probably feel like you don’t have a minute to spare, so you’re probably feeling pressure to cut some things out of your schedule. Most people will start skimping on self-care FIRST.
What is self-care? It’s that basket of practices we all do to keep us feeling human and possibly healthy. These are basic things like eating regularly and healthfully, taking your regular medications, bathing/fixing your hair or make-up, and making time for enjoyment – whether it’s a movie with your pals or coffee with your sister.
Keeping up self-care routines through stressful times (and they needn’t be perfect) will allow you to handle those stressful times the best way you can (even if you could have saved 2 minutes by forgoing brushing your teeth). Practicing self-care will allow you to remain functional through this stressful period. You’ll actually feel rested and like you have more time to give to your studies.
It’s also essential, that along with the above, you schedule breaks for yourself. Do something for yourself during these breaks that is not work. Try a 20 minute walk outdoors, or some fun music, or perhaps you have another way of detaching, however briefly, such as a hobby or outside interest. When you pick up your work again, you’ll be much more effective than before your break. If you wait until you’re completely exhausted to take a “break”, its often too late, and by then the wear and tear has built up and you may feel too “burnt out” to recover.
5) Watch What You Put In Your Body
As above, do your best to at least continue to eat regularly, and then healthfully. Remember to drink water, which people lose track of completely when in overdrive.
Beyond food, it’s important to avoid (or at least reduce) your consumption of alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, as well as any other drugs. It’s common to think psycho-stimulants will help you do more work, or make your work magically better, but this is a MYTH (and a myth that psycho-stimulants tend to make people more likely to believe – but this does not make it true). Unless you are prescribed medication for treatment of a psychiatric disorder that is known to effectively help you study – do not take anyone else’s “study” medication, other stimulant medication, or street drugs, despite the high stress time.
If you believe you may have a condition that should be treated with medication, schedule an evaluation with a Psychiatrist, who can accurately diagnose any attention/ concentration/ or cognitive deficit, and prescribe safe, appropriate treatment designed for you.
6) Distract With Change
Getting that overwhelmed or panicky feeling? Or feeling like you just need a few minutes of a break before you can go on? Listen to your body and try making any change that’s available: Change your physical state. Move around. Put on music and dance. Or change your scenery – been studying in your room? Head to the library, or a friend’s room, or for a short walk outside. Watch a funny movie, show, or youtube clip. Do your favorite relaxation technique or meditation. Go play your favorite sport.
7) Divide And Conquer
Split up study sections with a few classmates, and teach each other the sections. This actually has three big benefits. First, there is the obvious reduction in your workload. Second, this will help foster friendships and peer interaction (see #1 above). And third, teaching others is one of the most powerful ways to learn and really master a concept.
Working with others can also help you stay motivated. Studying together, or even just making an appointment to study next to each other, can really help. Sometimes looking forward to seeing a friend, or knowing that someone else is counting on you to do their best is a great motivator.
In medical school & residency, we use the approach “see one, do one, teach one”. Essentially, you will be allowed to observe any procedure once, the next time you will do the procedure supervised, and the third time that procedure is necessary, YOU will be the one teaching & supervising. I used to find that terrifying! How could I teach something I’d only seen once, and practiced once? But, if you can teach someone something, you have mastered it yourself!
8) You May Not Be Able To Complete Everything To Your Satisfaction
It’s possible you won’t be able to get through all the material you were assigned. Or, you might realize you just can’t possibly finish reviewing everything before the exam.
Here’s the thing – it’s OK!
I know that’s tough to believe, but try thinking about it this way: If you panic and dwell on how much you won’t get through by the exam, you won’t be able to study during the time you’re dwelling AND you will only feel worse for it. Simply keep at it and get through as much as you can. At least you’ll know that much very well. And, who knows, maybe the part you didn’t get to won’t be on the exam?
The truth is, no one can possibly learn everything assigned throughout their entire academic curriculum. You can always come back and review it if you need it later. In fact, I’m fairly certain there were courses I was assigned during my academic years in which no student could have completed all the assigned material for, even if they took no other courses that semester at all!
Don’t get psyched out. Just stay with it. You can get where you want in life, I promise, even if you don’t know all the material on this test. You just need to stick around. You will figure out how to get there!
9) Keep A Journal or Stress Diary
Many people find keeping a journal useful in understanding emotions, managing stress, and making decisions and/or changes in their lives. There are no right or wrong ways to journal. The key is to write regularly (every day if possible) and to let your journal be a place to get emotions “out” and onto paper.
You might also find a “stress diary” helpful. Keeping a stress diary for a few weeks is an effective stress management tool as it will help you become more aware of the situations which cause you to become stressed. Note the date, time, and place of each stressful episode, and note what you were doing, who you were with, and how you felt both physically and emotionally.
10) Seek Professional Help
Don’t shy away from seeking professional help. If you find yourself struggling with anxiety that won’t quit, eating disorders, feelings of hopelessness, or any symptoms you just haven’t been able to manage on your own, don’t wait until it gets worse! Professionals can help!
Sometimes a single meeting can identify a key problem, and set you on the right track. But getting things moving in the right direction, sooner rather than later, can make all the difference
We’re hopeful you have found a few tips you can apply in your own situation! If you would like more information about managing stress, contact our office at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you feel that you could use additional help, please don’t hesitate to contact our office at 917-609-4990 to arrange a consultation. We would be delighted to help.
Dr. Amanda Itzkoff