Your mid-way through your college course, exams are approaching and the workload is piling high. You’ve set up your study schedule, mastered your routine, worked really hard, and yet you still find yourself asking “why does studying make me anxious?”
Anxiety is perfectly normal. It’s necessary to function properly in today’s world. However, anxiety becomes a problem when it’s constant and interferes with our daily life and tasks. In this post, we are going to take a look at study anxiety and some effective steps that you can take to reduce any anxiety that you may be experiencing so that you can get back to studying effectively once again.
What is study anxiety?
Being anxious is a perfectly normal feeling that we will experience at various stages throughout our life. It is necessary for survival. We feel it when we are under pressure and it makes us act in the best way to a perceived problem or challenge that we face. It’s that fight or flight feeling. It will pass once we have dealt with the issue.
Anxiety, however, becomes a problem when we feel it constantly and in our attempts to avoid it, it begins to interfere with our daily lives. When we study it can be normal to experience a bit of pressure and stress, especially when exams are approaching. But when this feeling overwhelms us and we cannot manage the symptoms it can interfere with our ability to study effectively.
Below are some of the signs and symptoms that you may have when experiencing study anxiety:
- taking frequent trips to the toilet,
- shortness of breath
- a difficulty concentrating
- a churning or sick feeling in the stomach
- a racing heart
- feeling dizzy
- difficulty making decisions
Why Does Studying Make Me Anxious?
Being a student brings with it a lot of pressure and stress. The workload can be quite high and the deadlines can often be quite hard to manage especially come exam time when the majority of subjects or modules will have their coursework due around the same time.
Managing these project deadlines, as well as studying for your exams will undoubtedly bring on some stress. But stress can motivate us to put our head down and get the work done. However, when it doesn’t or the study anxiety actually prevents of from getting the work done this is when we have a problem that we need to address.
The best way to avoid study anxiety is to look at some of the reasons that students begin to feel this overwhelming anxious feeling and take action early to avoid being in this situation.
Study from the beginning
Don’t leave studying to the last minute. I know it can be very tempting, especially at the start to put things off and tell ourselves that we have plenty of time to do it.
Trust me I have done this with one or two subjects over the years and nothing good came of it. I constantly kept putting it off and ultimately spent the last month before the exam panicking and extremely anxious about how on earth I was going to get this subject learned in time. And to be perfectly honest, If I had managed it as I did with my other subjects I think my grade would have been equally good.
So trust me when I say don’t leave studying until the end of your course. Doing so is going to increase the pressure and level of stress you feel which will impair your ability to function and study effectively.
Study after the class
The best time to study is after class. This way the information is fresh in your head. You are best able to recall what your teacher has taught you and this, in turn, will help you study and learn the topic better.
The fact that the information will be going in better and you are able to understand and comprehend what you are trying to learn will boost your confidence. This will then leave you feeling happier and more positive which in turn will affect your mindset and how you look at and perceive other problems and subjects.
Stay in the “now”
What I mean here is to try not to look at ALL the work that you must do, but instead, focus on what you can do now. The best way to approach this is to break down your work into small manageable chunks. Set yourself some time to do a particular task and then take a break after it. Then you repeat the process again doing another task or chunk of information.
When we focus on everything that needs to be done, rather than what actually needs to be done today, we will undoubtedly become overwhelmed and feel under pressure. Looking at the whole subject rather than splitting it up into the individual chapters that make up the subject makes it feel like a never-ending, impossible task.
Taking it chapter by chapter is the best way to approach it and reduce any study anxiety. Only focus on the chapter at hand rather than looking at the 10 chapters that need to be studied before the exam. Viewing it in its entirety creates a mountain of work that must be done which leaves us feeling stress and anxiety. Plus it makes it so much more difficult to study effectively.
Instead, take it chapter by chapter. Focus your attention on that chapter at hand and avoid thinking about the future chapters that must be done. So tonight you will take chapter 1. You will study it for 50 minutes and then take 10 minutes of a break and return again. This is just an example. You can do whatever type of intervals you like and that work best for you. You might decide to split the first chapter over 2 or 3 nights. Whatever suits you best.
Check out our posts on “how to study effectively at home” to find out some useful tips and tricks to set up a study schedule and routine that works for you.
Retrain how you speak to yourself
This is an important tip. While your studying gives yourself compliments. This might sound strange but it’s actually quite good for building a positive outlook and mindset.
Mindset is everything when it comes to success and doing well. Giving yourself compliments while learning helps you stay motivated and calm. So when you remember something from class be sure to note that you remembered it from class. This builds confidence, and most importantly, increases confidence in your ability to remember and recall information. All of which will help reduce any anxiety come exam time.
For example, use phrases like “I am making good progress here”, “this information is going in easy” and “I remember this from class.” These are positive affirmations and can greatly reduce and study anxiety and stress that you may be feeling. They will also help cloud out and fight against any negative thoughts that you may be experiencing.
You may find this difficult at the start, but the more you begin to do it the easier it will get. The more positive self-affirmations you give yourself the more they will crowd out and squash the negative ones.
Here’s a list of things that can be used as positive affirmations:
- I understood this really well today in class, therefore I can do the same now
- I remember this from class
- This information is going in really easy
- I am making great progress
- I like studying and learning new information
- I always manage to do well when I study
- I always manage to do well in exams
- I am constantly learning and improving my mind
- I am constantly improving my understanding of things
- I am a good note-taker
- That was a good 20-minute study session
The key to it is to remain positive in your thoughts. Even the little things. Spending 10 minutes creating a study plan and goals is a step in the right direction and therefore deserves a positive compliment.
Forget the past
I am a devil for this as well. Sometimes it’s easy to look back and see what we SHOULD have done. We spend so much time saying I should have done this or that. Why didn’t I just do that then? Or it would have been so much easier if I had just done this or that?
And the thing is probably could have been. But the truth is that that is the past and we can’t do anything about that now. However, what we can control is the now, and more specifically what we do in the now.
So when you find yourself losing more time because your stressing and giving out about what you SHOULD have done in the past just stop take a few deep breaths, try to relax, and say what can I do now?
Focusing on the past results in us losing valuable time in the now. Right now we can still be productive and change the future. So here we must apply those strategies that will help us move forward.
Look at what needs to be done. Don’t stress over the total amount that needs to be done just break it down. Divide it into manageable sections. Now, look at the first section. Get set up in your study area (if you need some help setting up a good study area check out our post on “how to study at home without getting distracted“) and set the timer on how long you’d like to study for. At the end of that session stop and take a break. Tell yourself well done for successfully getting through the first interval of study and compliment yourself on how well the information is going in.
You can use any affirmation or positive self-talk that you like. But the point I am trying to make is that when you are studying information is going in and there are things that you are doing well and correctly, sometime we just don’t see it so by looking for the positives we reinforce this positive mindset. A positive can-do mindset is key for successful learning and success.
After your break, you can continue on with that section, or if you’ve finished it move on to another section or subject. The key to it is to just keep moving forward no matter how big or small you may think your progress is. It’s all progress and a move in the right direction.
Learning takes time
When studying it’s important to remember that learning something for the first time takes time. Each time we study a new topic or subject the better that we will become at that subject. So try not to feel bad when you start something new and feel like you are not getting very far with it.
This is not the case, although you may feel that way you are still making progress and developing a knowledge of the subject. The key is to remain positive, use positive affirmations and self-talk, keeping diving up the information in blocks, and focus on those sections one at a time.
I once had a subject that I found incredibly difficult. I just couldn’t comprehend and understand it as well as others. The thoughts of the exam really scared me and as a result, I had a lot of anxiety and stress around this particular subject.
To tackle this I just kept plugging away at it every evening. It wasn’t easy at the start, the negative thoughts and fear of failure were really strong. But I took a look at the coursework necessary for the subject and broke it down. It was 80% practical and 20% theory.
The problem I perceived at the time was if you made one mistake the whole practical side would not work. And you could make this mistake at any point during the practical exam and not know until the end which meant it was too late to go back and correct because you would not have the time.
This scared me a lot as I really felt like I didn’t understand the topic which was core to doing well with this subject. It was not a matter of learning something off by heart and then regurgitating in the exam. This would not work here.
So each night I dedicated an hour to the practical side of the subject. I got all the previous exam papers and I kept practicing the practical part of each exam. In the beginning, I got them wrong pretty much all the time. But I tried my best to remain positive.
With this subject, I was lucky enough to be able to do it with some music so I always put on my recent playlist on Spotify. This helped me to make it fun so it kind of felt like I wasn’t studying and made it more fun and entertaining.
After a few weeks of this I found myself not only making it further without making mistakes but I actually also started to really understand why everything needed to be a certain way and what to do if certain variables happened.
By exam time I had confidently developed an understanding of the subject as a whole and felt like I really comprehended the subject in its entirety. I got 100% on the exam. So my point is that it is perfectly normal to have some stress and anxiety while studying but don’t let this prevent you from studying. Avoid looking at the end and keep focusing on what you can do in the now.
Wanting to do well in your exams and life, in general, is great. We need this motivation and desire to do well and achieve success. But it’s also important to manage your expectations.
We need to take into account our abilities and what we can do in the time that we have available. While we want to get great grades we need to understand that it will take time to develop a full understanding of a topic. So when we sit down to study a particular topic or section we need to be realistic with our expectations here.
It’s unlikely that we are going to fully understand and know everything about a topic after our first day looking at it. This is ok. We cannot be expected to know something inside out the first time that we are told about it. It takes time to learn something and to fully develop an understanding of it.
Remember the more times we do something the better that we will become at that particular thing. This applies to studying too. The more we do it the better and faster than we will get. When you first learn a topic it will take longer than when we come back to revise that section. This is ok and to be expected so we need to tell ourselves this. This will help keep any study anxiety that you may be experiencing at bay.
Make studying a habit
The more we study, the more confident that we will become in our ability to not only study but learn and master a topic. The more we do this, the easier it becomes to relax into each study session. It can be hard to begin when you haven’t studied in a long time but once you get back into the swing of things it becomes much easier.
If you have been away from studying for a while you should check out our post on “how to study after a long gap- 12 tips for success” so that you get some practical tips that you can implement straight away.
So start small, make it regular and consistent. Each time you study you’ll grow your capacity to learn and begin to see that you can study better and for longer each time. It will grow your confidence which in turn will help with and stress and study anxiety.
Just like it’s important to incorporate positive self-talk and affirmation into your studying so too is rewarding yourself. So each time you study be sure to do something you enjoy afterward. This can be anything at all. You may decide to study for 3 intervals one night and as a reward when you finish you watch a movie or play some video games.
You could also study for an interval of 50 minutes and treat yourself to some chocolate on your break. This can make studying more fun. The desire not to study is inevitable at some point during the college semester. This is perfectly normal. We all need some motivation to do it at some stage. So be sure to reward yourself by doing some things that you enjoy.
Schedule some downtime
Taking some time away from your course work and studies is actually a really good idea. Maybe take one day or evening off at the weekend where you just completely forget about college and focus on other areas of your life.
Perhaps spend the day with your friends, family or go play some sports. This I really good for you and your mental health. Your body needs time to rest and recover. If we are constantly studying our brain and mind is going to get burnt out which in turn will affect our ability to study and learn effectively.
Also being tired, drained, and burnt out means our ability to fight off any self-doubt and negative thoughts are weakened. This will then lead to more pressure, stress, and study anxiety. So never feel bad for taking some time away from your college work. You are actually doing yourself a huge favor and enabling yourself to return to your studies with a healthier, less tired mind. Which enables you to stay positive and fight off any stress or anxiety that you may experience along the way.
Change your study environment
Your study environment is very important. When you are surrounded by constant distractions and people being noisy, it’s very easy to become frustrated and start thinking negative thoughts. These then can lead to negative self-talk and study anxiety.
In this regard, where you study becomes very important. Try to find somewhere that is easy for you to relax into your work and not get distracted easily. Avoid and tv’s in the background and turn your off or at the very put it on silent. It’s also important to have everything that you need to study there with you. This will help you settle into studying without having to get up and go searching for something every few minutes.
Another thing you could do is to use some calming, positive study music. We go into this in more detail in one of our other posts “can studying with music help?” but some people, including myself, find it easier to study with some background music on. For me, this music doesn’t contain any lyrics as I don’t want my brain working on anything else other than what I am trying to learn.
The benefits of having some calming ambient music playing in the background is that helps me to relax and therefore I can focus better on my work. It also helps to drown out any noise that may be coming from outside such as a barking dog that I cannot control.
You can find numerous study playlists on youtube and Spotify so it might be wise to take some time to go find one that works for you. You can also stick some positive affirmations on the wall in your study space that you can look at when your feeling un-motivated or even a bit stressed. This can help to reframe your mind and help you stay positive.
Avoid too much caffeine
While I do love my coffee, I am also aware that having too much can increase my anxiety level. This is especially through when I am already a bit stressed and under pressure. So be conscious about how much coffee you consume while you are studying. Instead, focus on eating clean healthy foods that will support your study goals and help even out your energy levels so that you can get a good day’s study completed. For more information on the best foods to eat while studying check out our posts on “32 foods to eat while studying” and “what is the best food for your brain?“
Studying in itself can be stressful. College and the sheer amount of coursework involved will inevitably bring some pressure which will lead to stress and anxiety. This in itself is normal, often needed so that we up our game and respond. But when anxiety prevents us from moving forward and begins to interfere with our course work and our daily lives this is when we need to address the issue promptly.
Put the practices that we spoke about into action, the earlier the better. This will help keep the stress and anxiety at bay. If anxiety becomes a major issue for you and prevents you from getting your work done then it would be wise to seek some help.
Speaking with a qualified professional can really help us manage our anxiety and start progressing forward once again. These professionals can teach us skills to use when we are overcome with anxiety that we can put into place while studying. They are also useful in other areas of our life too. Also never be afraid to speak with your friends, family, and course leader. These people are here to help and sometimes a simple chat is all you need to get over any study anxiety that you may be experiencing.