When studying and undertaking educational courses it is very important to manage stress effectively. Stress is an entirely natural process. While some people find that a little bit of stress motivates them to perform better, it is essential not to let stress damage your overall health and disrupt your life. When stress serves as a motivator we tend think of it in a more positive light however, when stress is more negative it can hinder your academic performance and cause problems.
All too often, students get overwhelmed by the sheer amount of coursework they have to do combined with their job and other personal commitments. Stress is a natural response to such demands, however, if you do not manage and deal with it effectively it can consume you to an extent that often leaves you feeling paralyzed. Stress becomes a serious issue when it become more frequent or constant.
Stress can result in headaches, inability to sleep, fatigue, problems with indigestion, overeating, insomnia, forgetfulness and irritability. These are just some of the effects of stress. When you are stressed it affects both your attention and emotional reaction.
When it comes to studying and doing well in your chosen course, stress is not what you want. To do well and achieve the grades you would like, it is essential you are aware of the symptoms of stress and know how to effectively manage and relieve stress.
Why is it important to recognize stress?
Recognizing stress or when you become tense or anxious is important because if not, it will ultimately affect your performance.
You might feel you perform better as a result of stress because in the past you were worked up before an exam and you passed it. So now you associate being worked up and tense a part of the pre-exams process.
However, when you combine this with other factors in your life that may cause you to become worked up or stressed, such as worrying about money, you in fact spend a lot of time dwelling on these the wrong things constantly, which means that your mind may never be returning to a complete relaxed state.
What does this mean?
Well if you are constantly becoming stressed or anxious about things, this will decrease your ability to study effectively by making it very difficult to concentrate and focus.
Think of a time when you were anxious about a project due and you were aware that you only had a few days left to turn it in. When people asked you to do things that were in relation to other areas or non-project related things, you probably became even more worked up or tense.
Or you may have gone to the shop to purchase some necessitates before getting stuck into your project for the evening but there was a queue and you felt that the person in front of you was paying in the slowest way possible, almost in slow motion.
In each of these situations you are becoming more and more tense and your body is finding it difficult to return to its relaxed state.
When you go home to do your project you find it difficult to concentrate because you’re stressed. Every little thing is distracting you and you’re making mistake after mistake. Silly mistakes that you wouldn’t normally make. This in turn often leads you to becoming even more worked up.
Ultimately your ability to focus properly diminishes because you are stressed. When little things cause you to become stressed these all add up to affect your concentration levels, fatigue and sleeping.
Often times people can become so stressed that it causes them to blank during the exams, leaving them unable to answer any questions and remembering it finally after the exams which is too late.
Sleep can be a big problem when students don’t manage stress effectively. High levels of stress can cause your mind to switch on when you go to bed, ultimately keeping you awake all night and leaving you unproductive and tired the next day. Not very good for when you need to be alert to study the next day, nor something you want to happen during your exams.
Most students are likely to experience stress at some stage and everyday stresses are quite common with many of these coming and going quickly. However, when these build up they can produce a substantial amount of stress for an individual.
So, How do you prevent high levels of stress?
Firstly, to prevent high levels of stress affecting your ability to study effectively you must be familiar with the symptoms or causes of stress.
Causes of stress
Expectations of others
It’s common to feel an immense amount of pressure from your family, especially parents, to do well. These people mean well and only want you to do your best so you can have the life you deserve, but subconsciously you can feel overwhelmed by the pressure you feel to do well for them.
Other times the expectation and pressure to do well for your parents comes from their push to excel which is usually evident throughout your childhood. From preschool to college, dance class to softball, parents love boasting to other family members, friends and neighbors, about how well you do.
Oftentimes parents compare you to your older brother or sister who has done well in their career or achieved high grades in their studies. This can create an immense amount of pressure on you to perform well in your own studies and career.
Even your teachers or professors can put pressure on you as they are ultimately the ones who will be correcting your exam paper. Your grade depends on this person and often it can take some time to adjust to their style of teaching, which can cause stress throughout your studies.
Financial problems contribute greatly to a student’s stress levels. Whether you’re attending college or taking course work online, it’s not cheap even though the latter can often be completed at a lower cost than physically attending a course. It will still require a financial investment. Not to mention an investment of your time, rent, fees and other expenses.
For some students, help and support from their parents mean the financial pressure can be lessened, as well as those who may be entitled to some financial aid. However, many students have to go it alone and burden the financial obligations of further education while balancing a part-time job.
Not doing as well as hoped or struggling with a particular subject in your course and the fear of not doing well in college presentations can lead to stress among students.
Fear of failure due to poor academic performance and not getting the grades required to pass a course can cause students to succumb to an overwhelming level of pressure, which can contribute greatly to their stress levels.
This in turn can lead to absenteeism or a feeling of hopelessness which will effect their study habits and can leave a student feeling depressed. All of this will further threaten or weaken their academic performance.
Students should seek help from their tutor or other students if they are having difficulty with a particular topic or subject. Often times other students in the class can provide you with a better explanation of a certain concept that could help you understand it better. Even talking it through with someone else can help develop your own understanding of the matter.
It is also possible to post a question on a discussion board relating to the concept or topic. People are always willing to help others with their questions and can provide you with examples to develop your understanding.
Check to see if your course provider has a discussion board or if there is a class Facebook page where you can post your query. It is also a good idea to email your tutor or professor with the question. This way he/she may decide to dedicate another class to explaining it or provide additional questions which can further assist you.
Poor eating habits
Bad eating habits are all too common among students and is largely due to lack of time or the financial means to eat healthy while studying. Students are often too busy completing course assignments and balancing a part time job to eat healthy and as a result their diet is largely made up of poor quality foods and takeaways.
For a lot of students, they are not even aware of how to eat healthily or how a poor quality diet contributes to their stress levels and inhibits performance. For many students their diet consists of noodles and candy bars.
Foods like yogurt, salmon and oatmeal can greatly enhance your mood and performance. Snacking on peanuts, popcorn, raisins, blueberries, raspberries and granola bars while studying are great healthy snacks for the brain. Eating healthy can really improve your studying ability and help reduce stress.
For many students, the workload in a college course or courses they decide to pursue after school can be quite intense. Most students are not prepared or aware of how different the level of work is when they embark on their course of choice.
This can be quite the shock for new students. With high school there was someone watching over you telling you want to do. However, with many courses after school the workload is much greater and students are now on their own, responsible for their own work.
For students who are not that organized or are not used to making plans, this change can prove to be a struggle and bring with it some stress and pressure.
It is important for students to come up with ways to help stay organized and on top of their course work. Creating a study schedule is an excellent way to do this. Students can then effectively organize their time to fit in assignments, study and other commitments such as a part time job.
Time management is an essential aspect to successfully completing an academic course. Learning to effectively manage time now will greatly aid you in the future.
It is also important to make time for yourself and social activities. Effective study cannot be achieved if you don’t allow your mind to rest. So be sure to factor in some downtime with your friends or other fun activities on your schedule.
The pressure that students put on themselves can cause an immense amount of stress, especially if they are highly competitive. Whatever the course they are in, students often desire to be the best in their class, achieve an excellent average grade on their degree, or maintain an extremely high GPA.
It is important for students not to allow this to take over their mental process as it can contribute to a high degree of pressure and make the process of learning much harder.
Students should enjoy completing their course and have some fun with it. It is a good idea to work through course assignments with friends and have study partners. An important part of any course is to build relationships with new people and build connections that can last for life or may prove valuable in the future.
A student’s study environment can also cause stress. If the area or place a student decides to study is too cluttered and noisy it will affect their ability to study, which will lead to them feeling anxious and stressed.
It is important that you find an area to study where you have plenty of space, organized and clutter free. Being free from all potential distractions is also important.
Many students find that their local or college library is a good place to go when they want to focus while others like to have a room in their own house to study. Every student is different, but what is important is to have somewhere that there is minimum distractions, no TV, phone or computer that could be a potential distraction.
Sudden or unexpected illness of a family can lead to a student becoming stressed during their course. If this happens it is a good idea to contact your course provider especially if it is likely to last a long time.
In these incidences the college is more than likely going to be very accommodating to your circumstances and may offer a deferral. It is also a good idea to seek some professional help to assist you during the difficult period.
How to manage and reduce your stresses
Change what you can
To manage stress effectively it is important to pay attention to the things that are causing you stress. Don’t ignore it. Instead recognize what it is that’s causing you to become stressed and see can you change it. Change what you CAN change. If you cannot change these things, see what you can do to make it better.
Talk it through
When you talk through your problem with a close friend or family member you gain some clarification on both your feelings and are left in a much better place to identify what is causing the stress in your life.
Another person’s perspective can provide clearer insight into a particular situation and help you clearly identify your thoughts and feelings about a situation. More often than not, you end up walking away feeling much better about the situation.
When things are really piling up on you, remember to grab some of your best friends and go have a laugh. Laughing actually produces a chemical, endorphin, which helps reduce stress. Laughing with your friends can really help reduce negative thoughts, thoughts which only serve to make your stress worse.
Make time in your schedule for socializing with your friends. Effective study can only be achieved with a healthy mind and to keep your mind in good shape, it is important to take breaks from studying and allow it to relax.
Plan your day
Being prepared for the day ahead is a good way to help reduce any stress. Plan in advance all your activities for the next day. This will help you take control and reduce the amount of uncontrollable issues that may arise. By planning your tasks, the night before or at the start of each day you will find that you are able to work through your schedule more effectively.
By taking a proactive approach to the day ahead you will help yourself remain more focused during your studies and get more done.
When planning for your day ahead, it is important to allow for some flexibility. Not matter how organized you are and how much pre-planning you do, things will always arise that are outside your control. Some of these things will be more important than your plans and will require your immediate attention.
Create a study timetable
To avoid becoming overwhelmed with the sheer amount of coursework and assignments, it is a good idea to develop a study schedule. This will help you stay on top of things and make your workload much more manageable. Break down the things you have to do into manageable tasks and tackle them one at a time
It will enable you to plan in advance what you need to do for the week, while allowing you to schedule more time to those subjects or topics that you may be finding difficult. Practicing good study habits by organizing your time, priorities and study environment will greatly aid both your success in your chosen course and your stress management.
By scheduling time to subjects you can then identify if your expectations are realistic and when they’re not you can adjust them going forward to be more suitable to your needs.
If you’re unclear about anything in your course work be sure to ask other classmates or the professor this will help you gain clarity and reduce any stress and uncertainty that it may be causing.
Exercise is an essential element of staying healthy and happy during your studies. Be sure to schedule in time during the week to do some exercise.
By exercising regularly, whether it’s yoga or running, you will help relieve any stress. Additionally, exercise produces endorphins that will help you feel happier and healthier.
When you make your study schedule it is very important that you stick to it. Avoid procrastinating. Putting things off will only serve to increase your stress and anxiety. Stay proactive and make a commitment to follow through each day on your study objectives.
Eating healthy nutritious meals will help build up your strength and immune systems which means you will be better prepared to deal with any stress that may arise. Research has indicated that even small deficiencies of thiamin, a B-complex vitamin, can contribute to anxiety while, Pantothenic acid, another B-complex vitamin, is crucial during times of stress.
Avoid using alcohol, smoking and drugs as a way to cope with stress, as these can negatively affect your mood as well as your health while draining your energy. Using such items mask the problem rather than dealing with it.
Using relaxation techniques, such as taking slow, deep breaths, Yoga and meditation are very effective ways to reduce stress. By breathing in and out deeply and slowly, you will improve the oxygen supply in your body which will help you exit the fight or flight mode.
Breathing deeply automatically slows your your breathing and allows you to return to a more relaxed state. You should aim to do this for a few minutes so that it creates a calming effect.
Listen to music
Researchers have found that stress and anxiety can be decreased by listening to relaxing music such as the sound of the ocean or rain falling for example. Many other students use classical music or ambient music to help them relieve any stress they may be experiencing.
Listening to music can create a positive and productive environment by improving your mood. This in turn can motivate or inspire you to study. Some students use such music while they are studying as they find it makes them more relaxed and focus and as a result they tend to have more effective study sessions.
Learn to say no
People are inevitably going to ask you to do things or invite you to events, and while it is important to make time to engage in social events during your course, it is also equally important to say no to those activities that you do not have time for or an interest in.
Don’t feel you have to say yes to everything you’re asked to do or events you’re invited to. After committing to your study schedule and other important commitments it is important that you take time out to relax and socialize by doing the things that help you unwind and that you enjoy.
Negative thoughts such as “I’ll never be able to do this” or “I am just not good enough” serve only to increase your anxiety and stress. Research has found that people who adopt a positive attitude experience lower levels of stress than those that engage in negative thinking habits.
Positive thinking does not mean that we simply ignore life’s troubles, it means approaching such difficult situations with a positive and productive attitude. So instead of saying “I’ll never be able to do this” you would say that “with time and a bit of effort I will accomplish this”
It involves analyzing the situation, identifying it for what it is but not allowing ourselves to see it being worse than it actually is. We then must be productive in finding a way to improve the situation so it becomes what we would like it to be.
Take a quick walk
Researchers have found that taking a walk can boost your memory and brain power. By taking some time out during your study period to take a quick walk you can help reduce your stress levels and boost your academic performance.