It’s back-to-school season which means that it’s also time for students to experience the lovely stress that comes with attending school or university! Since stress isn’t really great for you I thought I’d share some ways to alleviate the pressure of returning to studying for yet another year.
First things first, I think it’s important to recognise that different types of stress need different responses. I am in no way qualified to define different types of stress but I’ve realised that when I’m stressed it’s usually for one of three different reasons:
Since each of these needs to be tackled in a different way, I thought I’d take a look at them one at a time…
Type 1: there’s just too much to do!
This list of jobs just seems to be growing and unless a day suddenly becomes 40 hours long there’s no hope that I’ll be able to get it done in time
The only way to handle this type of stress is to deal with it head on and get started on the list of things that you need to do –
The best way to start dealing with a long list of things is to prioritise what you’re doing to do first. Some people like to use a prioritising grid (the Eisenhower Matrix) for this which splits things up depending on whether they’re urgent/important or not. If you want to learn more about this method then click this link!
Personally, I like to
Once you’ve started tackling the most there are and urgent aspects of your list, you can also start trying to free up some more time to focus on the other tasks you have to do. This could mean talking to your teachers about extending deadlines if you don’t think you’ll be able to stick to them or planning to skip one of your hobbies for that week so that you have extra time to do your work. Even if you’re unable to do these things, just crack on with it anyway because getting 3/12 things done is better than getting 0/12 done because you were too busy stressing about it.
Another thing that I like to do when stressed out about things like this is plan out there are when I’m going to do things so that I can physically see that it’ll be possible to get it finished within a certain time frame. Hopefully, things will seem more manageable once you know what you need to tackle first and when you are going to get started on it, which should help to alleviate the stress-headache that you may have developed!
The key to this type of stress is to prevent it from happening again by being more organised in the future. Inevitably there will be weeks when you’ll have multiple exams as well as several assignments due, but you can avoid the last-minute stress of it all by writing out deadlines in a planner as soon as you know them so it doesn’t come as a surprise to you when it happens. This will allow you to start working on these tasks earlier and avoid them piling up as the deadlines start to loom.
You can also avoid this stress by doing work as soon as it’s set so that it doesn’t build up to the point where you have three weeks worth of work to do in one weekend. Obviously this doesn’t mean that you should cancel all your plans as soon as you get an assignment (after all, socialising is a good way to relax after school!) but it means that you should be conscientious when it comes to your work and you should try and at least start it well before the due date.
Type 2: why is everything happening at once?!
None of these things are particularly important nor are they within my control but nevertheless I am going to worry and stress about them for the foreseeable future
For me, I tend to experience this type of stress in the run-up to a big event (e.g. results day) where I can’t really do much about what’s going to happen aside from wait and see. The way I tackled it was to make a list of all the possible issues that I could be dealing with and come up with some sort of a solution to all of them. If there was genuinely nothing I could do to fix it or it was totally unimportant then I’d either ignore it or cross it off the list since it isn’t worth worrying about.
This may not work for some people since it doesn’t really inspire a positive mindset, but it makes me feel like I’m prepared for any situation so I don’t need to worry about the number of unknowns I’m facing. A similar (but slightly more positive approach!) could be to make a list of the possible problems and then make a note of any positive things that could come with them (e.g. missing your grades for a certain university may mean that you go to another one which is in an area with lower living costs).
If the thing that is stressing you out is a major life event (such as getting the results and seeing which university you’ll go to), then it may be worth talking to your family/teachers/friends about possible alternatives if things don’t go to plan or even just about anything you’re worried about in general. Even though they may not be able to help you out as such, they might be able to put your mind at rest about some of the sillier stresses that you may have.
Once you’ve done this, your only other real option is to try and distract yourself from the issues at hand until they’re over and done with. If you don’t know what to do, I’ve put together some ideas below (you can download the image as a PDF here)!
If you find that you get stressed for these reasons often then there’s probably a common denominator that’s causing it almost every time. In that situation, you should try and work out what is causing your stress and try to avoid it. If that isn’t possible (you can’t just stop going to school because it’s stressing you out!) then you should try and develop some coping strategies which can help you to deal with both the cause and your stress more effectively.
If you want more advice on how to do this, at the end of this blog post there are some helpful links which may be useful for you.
Type 3: compulsory student stress
Being a student is stressful which means that I should be stressed out at all times about something regardless of whether there is anything important to worry about or not
For me, this type of stress usually comes from imposter syndrome (if you’re unsure what that is, there’s a great TED-Ed video about it), especially due to the fact that my Instagram is full of people who seem to be constantly studying and getting high grades. Schools also love to push the idea that you should spend most of your waking time studying if you want to do well in your exams (which isn’t true as long as you’re smart about how you study) which doesn’t help with this build-up of stress.
Unless there is genuinely something that you should be studying at that moment, all you can do is try and convince yourself that you have actually worked hard and you don’t need to panic about not studying enough. Sometimes, I find it useful to go back to my to-do list for the day to see the things that I’ve actually completed. You may also find it useful to look back at past exam papers that you’ve done to remind yourself how far you’ve come since you did it and how much you’ve improved.
If you still haven’t convinced yourself that you don’t have to be studying during every single waking moment of your life, then you can take the time to Google the countless scientific articles that talk about how vital it is to take time to reduce your stress levels when you’re studying for important exams. You shouldn’t feel guilty about taking time out to watch an episode of your favourite TV show if you’ve spent all afternoon studying and doing homework. After all, school isn’t everything and it’s more important that you take care of yourself and your mental health.
Just a note…
In some situations, the ideas that I’ve mentioned in this article may not be useful for the stress that you’re trying to deal with and you may need to speak to someone else about it and try out some different techniques. You should also be aware that I’m not professionally qualified in any way and these are just things that I’ve noticed help me out when I’m stressed. I’ve linked some sources that you may find useful below.
- NHS articles on how to deal with and reduce stress: 1 & 2
- Mind, a charity which focuses on helping people with their mental health: how to manage stress & talk to them
- NHS Moodzone has links to useful tips and treatments for stress
- Mental health helplines list (unfortunately I think this is only for the UK though)
- MOODJUICE – a guide from NHS Scotland about what stress is and how to help yourself
- Student Minds has advice and support specifically relating to student life: dealing with exam stress & get support
If you feel like stress is consistently having a negative impact on your life then it’s important that you speak to your family and teachers so that you can get the support that you need at home and school. You should also consider asking for support from another source, like the ones that I have mentioned above if you feel like you need some help handling your stress. Like I said before, your mental health is more important than getting good grades so you shouldn’t sacrifice it because you’re stressed out about exams.