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The 12 Best Ways To Deal With Study Stress

Photo by Alexander Michl on Unsplash

Being at University or College can be the best time of your life, but it can also be stressful. 53% of students reported that their stress levels increased since starting university (Student Living Report, 2002).

#1 The most powerful button on your pocket supercomputer

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It's probably as painful as it is effective. With one small change, you can turn the never-ending distraction/notification machine that you carry 24/7 into a lifeless brick. While studying, set your phone to Airplane mode, and close all extraneous web broswers/messengers not related to studying. The silence will be deafening. And the distractions will be decimated. It's the easiest way to ramp up focus and get some stress-free studying done.

Contributors: Brian Radvansky from Med School Tutors

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#2 Frame the exam as a friend, not a foe

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Why should this test be the one thing that stands between you and your goal, preventing you from achieving it? Instead, view your test as a chance to bring you closer to your goal. Adopting a positive frame of mind with the right mental attitude will turn the big, bad exam that's out to get you into the series of questions you prepared for that will bring you the success you are after. Tests are not an inherently bad thing, and neither is studying. Get excited about the knowledge you are building instead of the hours of your life you won't get back.

Contributors: Brian Radvansky from Med School Tutors

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#3 Stomp on negative self-talk

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Any time you spend at your exam, or during studying, denigrating yourself is time wasted. Negative self-talk is completely contrary to your goal, so why would you ever employ it? Sometimes our subconscious gets the better of us, and thoughts like I'm no good at this subject anyway, creep into our heads. Take all of these negative thoughts and emotions you are confronted with, ball them together, and visualize yourself lighting them on fire, or sending them to the North Pole. Fill the newfound void in your consciousness with positive thoughts of self-love and merit.

Contributors: Brian Radvansky from Med School Tutors

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#4 TDB

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A good friend gave me this advice the day before the most important exam in my career. What should I do? I asked. TDB, she replied. Take a deep breath. It's the oldest wisdom, and it's still around for a reason. Whether in studying or testing, some well-timed deep breathing will tip your nervous system into the parasympathetic zone, where your heart will slow down a little bit, and a calmer focus will find you. Exploit the physiologic machinery that we've developed over the millennia. It's accessible to everyone, takes nearly no effort, and will only serve to bring you relaxation and clarity. If a deep breath is too nebulous for you, employ box breathing: inhale until the count of 4, hold for a count of 4, exhale for a count of 4, and hold again for a count of 4. Repeat until you are as calm as you wish to be.

Contributors: Brian Radvansky from Med School Tutors

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#5 Study in an place that’s similar to the testing environment

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How to accomplish that? Most tests are taken in quiet places with a number of other people. Outside of school or work, places like libraries or cafes often fit the bill. If your test is going to take place at a dedicated testing center where you get a personalized cubicle, working at home at your desk is a fine surrogate. While studying, do everything the way that you will on your test day. Wear similar attire and study at the same time of day if you are able. If you take the test perched up on the office chair, study that way too. You probably won't be listening to music during the actual test, so turn it off for now and give full focus to the task at hand. The closer your study environment is to your test environment, the more streamlined your transition will be.

Contributors: Brian Radvansky from Med School Tutors

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#6 Time Management

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I realized that being proactive and working ahead of time is really the best way to stay on top of your studies. In order to do that, you really need to be organized. There are three things I carry with me everywhere. 

  1. A calendar - At the start of the semester I write down all of my due dates from the syllabus from each class. Then, I write down the dates when I will start and finish each assignment. This keeps track of what's coming up, and reminds me to work on it ahead of time so as to reduce that last minute cramming.
  2. Wunderlist - Wunderlist is an app that I use on my phone. I use it to create to do lists (separate for each course), and then set reminders. I can even share those with other people. I sometimes share lists with my friends so that we can all keep each other accountable if we're in the same course. 
  3. A little notepad - This is where I write down every miscellaneous thing that comes up in my day. It's sort of like a to do list, but it's more so to write anything extra so that I don't forget.

At the end of the day it's about diligence and giving yourself constant reminders. I might ignore one reminder and put something off, but there's no way I'll ignore the other two. 

Contributors: Erich Ko from Curexe

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#7 Create peace of mind with a kick-ass study strategy

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Don’t study in the dark (either literally or metaphorically). There is nothing is more anxiety-provoking while studying than not knowing if what you have done is going to be enough or if you are going to get through the material in time. Instead, do everything you can to design a fool-proof plan to know what it takes to get the mark you want and get that done in the time available. A great study strategy will also hugely improve your study efficiency and success! Here’s the method I have cultivated having sat over 200 exams over the years…

  1. Decide on the mark you want. Be honest with yourself and decide what you are willing to put the time and effort in to get a solid pass or whether you want to aim for the top marks.
  2.  Find out everything you can about what it will take to reach that goal.  
    1. Use all the resources at your disposal: this might include looking at the course and exam outline and study aims, talking to people who have sat the course before, looking over old exam papers to see the format and what is covered. For major exams such as medical speciality exams or legal bar exams, you can find many resources and even entire books written on the subject.
    2. Make a list of all the topics you need to cover
  3. Create a realistic (and ideally generous) timeline to cover what you have discovered you need to do.
    1. When mapping out your study plan, remember to take into account that topics can differ in the amount of content and weighting in the assessment
    2. Include plenty of contingency days
    3. Include re-revision time, to go over your summary notes/take a second and third (or more?!) pass at the study material (don’t worry it gets easier and faster each time)
  4. Know you can get that mark.

This is important in order to go into the exam feeling confident instead of stressed. Give yourself a practice exam, ideally several practice exams taking time to revise on identified weak-spots between practices. Make sure you practice under exam conditions. If you are sitting a practical exam, get someone (or several people) suitably experienced to put you through a practice exam. Aim to consistently get more than the mark you are aiming for in the actual exam in your practices.

Contributors: Sasha Nair from Chic Balance

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#8 Take care of yoursel

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I spent way too many years thinking that the best approach was to use every bit of time I could to study, even if this meant getting really sleep deprived and not eating healthily. There is increasing evidence that self-care is important in performance, especially if you are going to be studying for a long period of time. Schedule in time to exercise, even if it is only a few minutes per day, eat regularly and well and wind down before going to sleep. Aside from improving your performance, good self-care also helps you to manage stress during high pressure times. Make a list of things you like to do to relax and schedule relax-and-recharge time especially if your exam is still a long way off. 

Contributors: Sasha Nair from Chic Balance

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#9 Have some 3-minute stress-busting techniques up your sleeve

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Here are some examples: 

  • visualise yourself feeling confident and excelling during your assessment 
  • visualise yourself celebrating after you finish your assessment, knowing you aced it 
  • take a walk somewhere green and natural. Studies suggest that both walking and exposure to nature can improve mental performance 

Contributors: Sasha Nair from Chic Balance

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#10 Make sure you are getting nutrients needed to keep you going

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When stressed we are burning through more of the nutrients needed for making energy (ATP), transporting and processing oxygen, making sure things flow (think blood and cell transport- getting things into and out of your cells), and producing neurotransmitters. This is why it is especially important to eat nutrient rich food when under stress. Avoid the junk food you are craving and instead choose food that pack in those nutrients.

Contributors: Eva El-Khatib from NutrGen LLC 

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#11 Sing…sing a song….

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Most realize that stress causes the hormone cortisol (aka stress hormone) to increase. This hormone signals that the body needs extra fuel- and it needs to prepare for a fight or flight situation. This results in increased, blood sugar and blood pressure (got to transport that sugar and oxygen as fast as possible). If the stress continues your body will think it needs to stay in this survival state. 

Elevated cortisol is a problem seen in cancer patients. How does this relate to studying and stress?...well, a study found that among cancer patients singing for 1 minute a day lowered cortisol levels, improved mood and decreased anxiety. Maybe we should all start singing. 

Benefits of singing “Studies have shown reductions in anxiety, improvements in mood and reductions in cardiovascular measures such as blood pressure.” Overall the “study demonstrates associations between singing and reduced negative and increased positive effect, reduced cortisol …” 

Contributors: Eva El-Khatib from NutrGen LLC 

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#12 To drink caffeine or not

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Not everyone can metabolize caffeine at the same rate. For some it is broken down slowly, resulting in increased sensitivity to the stimulating effects of caffeine. The downside to this slower metabolizer is its potential to make you feel even more stressed. While those who metabolize caffeine quickly may need to drink more of it to feel the stimulating effects. 

Contributors: Eva El-Khatib from NutrGen LLC 

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