When trying to study for an exam, stress and anxiety are expected and almost inevitable. It is also pretty easy to forget to do the important things that matter like sleep well, eat well, go out with friends, and have time for yourself, and if you’re anything like me, it is even easier to hit play on just one more episode of The Office (US) on Netflix or to watch Step Brothers for the 12th time while yelling the quotes at the TV screen.
However, if you’re reading this blog, you may be curious about some strategies you could use to get back on track, or some ideas to help you to stop procrastinating, turn Netflix off, and pack away that tub of ice cream that was helping you forget about your exams with every mouthful.
There are two main points that I will try to communicate through this blog post that I believe can help with the stress or anxiety around completing a project, task, or study.
- Maintaining self-care habits
- Shifting focus from performance-based goals to time-based goals
While anxiety and stress can be powerful tools for motivation, they can also lead us to neglect the basics. Stressed or not, self-care is essential for our wellbeing and our concentration. Research consistently shows that sleep has a large impact on our mood; ability to concentrate, learn and remember new information; our wellbeing; and much more. Check out our blog post ‘Simple steps for solid sleep’ for some ideas on improving your sleep. If you want to fact check me (I actually encourage this) or find out more, watch Matthew Walker’s Ted Talk on YouTube ‘Sleep is your superpower’.
Similarly, research shows that diet, exercise and socialising affect health and wellbeing, mood, concentration, and how well we can sleep at night. Our sleep, diet, exercise and socialising are easier to focus on when we are feeling well, but they are equally, if not more important during times of stress.
Bottom line is this: if you want to study well, you’ve gotta sleep well, eat well, exercise consistently, see your friends and family regularly, and most importantly, always listen to your mother (which may seem unrelated, but you honestly can’t go wrong with that advice).
Set time-based goals rather than performance-based goals
Performance-based goals like ‘finish reading this chapter by the end of the week’, ‘finish drafting this essay’, or ‘write this paragraph by the end of today’ can be pretty helpful, achievable, and lead you to feel good and get things done if they’re realistic and SMART (see the ‘Creating and achieving goals’ blog for further details), but they can also lead you to feel really de-motivated and disappointed if you do not reach them (e.g., if they were not SMART goals, expectations were set too high, etc.).
On the other hand, time-based goals are simply a commitment to focus on a task for a set amount of time, without distraction, for example ‘work on this essay for 30 minutes straight, without distraction’ or even ‘spend 15 minutes just researching to find out more about the topic before writing anything’. As long as you focus your attention on the task at hand in the allocated time, regardless of how much is accomplished, you can finish feeling good and knowing you have achieved your goal as planned… and then you can of course celebrate by watching another episode of The Office or even finish the season, guilt-free… because you’ve earned it.
When you let go of the overwhelming goals (e.g., finish this report, finish this essay, read this entire book, etc), and focus on… well… actually focusing for a specified, realistic, and time-limited duration, you may find that it is easier to get started on the work (even when you really, really… really don’t feel like it), and that you actually complete more work and procrastinate less.
A key part of using this strategy effectively is starting tasks early, that way you can focus on focusing without the stress of a deadline, and with smaller commitments (e.g., 15 minutes of focus), confidence that you can get it done in time, AND with my permission to celebrate completing your time-based goals by TREATING YOURSELF and enjoying guilt-free TV, playing Fortnite, or doing whatever it is that makes you happy.
If you want to find out more or know someone struggling with their study stress, please feel free to contact us on 02 4244 5636 to organise an appointment with one of our many talented psychologists.