If you’re a student, study and exam stress is often the payoff for achieving career goals, but managing it is essential to good mental health.
We spoke to Psychologist Christina Leggett of Little Window – Counselling, Psychology & Wellness for advice on how to stay focused and manage study-related stress. “Current research in neuroscience demonstrates how stress and anxiety can manifest in the brain and body, and how lifestyle factors can either increase or decrease stress in our lives. So, it’s helpful to address lifestyle factors which can impact on stress management for students,” she says.
Social/Emotional Relationships: Address and facilitate a sense of safety around the relationships in your life.
Sleep: Sleep hygiene can impact mental health, maintain helpful memory processing, and depending on quality of sleep, can increase or decrease your productivity.
Diet: We know gut health and providing fuel for the brain can decrease stress and increase focus, productivity, and wellness.
Exercise and Physical Movement: As anxiety is held in the body and brain, it can be helpful to utilise strategies such as exercise to manage stress.
Technology Use: Monitoring technology use is an important process of anxiety management. Overuse and ‘mindless’ technology use can lead to addictive behaviours and avoidant patterns of coping with stress. Zoning out on technology frequently impacts on our connections with others, increases the risk of depression, stress symptoms, anxiety, and dysfunctional behaviours.
Our external environment can impact on our stress levels and productivity. It is important to consider if our environment feels safe, uncluttered, and organised, rather than chaotic, dangerous, and unsafe. What is the current state of your physical, social, and family environment?
Based on the significance of lifestyle factors in stress management, below are eleven strategies to help students manage stress.
Stress Management Strategies
- Learn How to Effectively Manage Time
There are usually two components to effective learning. One process is learning, memorising and understanding content. The second is organising the self so that we can maximise learning and maximise memory processing.
Students tend to focus on the first process without making sure that they are first maximising their chances of learning and retaining information. As a result, anxiety and stress increases, which leads to panic, procrastination, and decrease in functioning.
Students require ongoing guidance and consistent feedback and ‘check-ins’ when developing their timetables with their parents, teachers, and/or counsellor. Time management needs to also include scheduling rest, fun, and connections with others.
- Setting Realistic Deadlines and Completion Times
Most schedules look better on paper than in practice. So, trial and error is the best approach to ensure flexibility, and decrease disappointment and stress.
- Sleep Hygiene
Healthy sleep routine and quality sleep increases our ability to manage stress, improves memory, and increases functioning. Sleep hygiene includes setting up a sleep space which feels uncluttered, peaceful and calming, and does not involve technology. Preparing for quality sleep also involves what students do during the day. If students are eating well (decreasing sugar and caffeine later in the day) and moving their bodies during the day, quality of sleep improves.
Movement and exercise releases endorphins and dopamine which helps the brain and body to feel motivated and well. It is a great way to manage stress and calm the nervous system.
- Become Aware of Procrastinating or ‘Zoning Out’ Behaviours
Procrastination is a way of avoiding discomfort when studying or preparing for exams. It serves the purpose of providing quick short-term relief for students, however in the long-term it decreases productivity which then increases anxiety and stress. Resisting the urge to procrastinate, and replacing it with completing at least one task before having a break is a helpful way of breaking the pattern.
- Do One Task at a Time Instead of Multi-tasking
Multi-tasking increases overwhelm, decreases productivity, and impacts on our memory system. Focusing on one task at a time may take more time, but is a great way to manage stress and overwhelm, and produce more effective results.
- Connect with Friends and Family
When we are stressed, the anxiety centre in our brains becomes activated. This means that we are less likely to feel social, to think clearly, and be productive. Allowing some pre-planned time in the timetable to reconnect with family or friends helps to soothe anxiety in our brains which in turn activates the rational thinking parts of the brain.
- Spending Time in Nature
We know that nature has incredible effects on our nervous system and stress response. Spending time in our favourite places in nature increases motivation and decreases stress.
- Realise Stress Can be a Normal Reaction to Exams and Study
Stress can release adrenalin which can sometimes help to increase productivity. So it’s more realistic to manage stress levels rather than eliminating stress altogether. Being able to sit with some levels of discomfort and stress is a realistic way to manage anxiety, and decrease procrastination.
- Make Sure Your Environment Feels Safe or Calm
Exposure to conflict in social and family contexts, or in a chaotic physical space leads to significant anxiety and stress which can become challenging to manage. Altering the study environment to feel safe, organised, and calm as well as decreasing exposure to social conflict is an effective way to manage stress.
- Accessing Support
In some cases, students may need to access support from a teacher, peer, parent, or therapist to build resilience and develop a ‘tool box’ for effective stress management.
Study Stress Management
Stress Management is an online professional development program that will provide you with the knowledge, skills and coping strategies to control and manage stress. So, if you’re a student looking to enhance your coping strategies take a look at this short, self-development course from Australian Online Courses.