Stress will ruin your ability to learn, decrease your skills, and even bring down your GPA. These seven tips will help you cope when you feel too stressed to study. These “stress management” tips are actually about better time management. Stress is often caused by feeling out of control and overwhelmed.
“Most students misunderstand the purpose of time management,” writes professor Cal Newport in How to Become a Straight-A Student: The Unconventional Strategies Real College Students Use to Score High While Studying Less. “Students believe time management is used only to cram as much work as possible into the day. But this is not the main motivation behind controlling your schedule. As it turns out, a little planning goes a long way toward reducing your daily stress levels. Having deadlines and obligations floating around in your mind is exhausting-it makes it impossible to completely relax, and, over time, can lead you down the path toward a breakdown. However, once you figure out what work needs to be done and when, it’s like a weight being lifted from your shoulders.”
The more in control you feel – especially if you need to learn how to study when you can’t focus – the less stressed and anxious you’ll feel. If you gain control over your study habits and schedule, you will relax. You won’t feel too stressed to study, and you can focus on learning the material and getting good grades.
7 Ways to Cope When You Feel Too Stressed to Study
“If you keep interrupting your evening to check and respond to e-mail, or put aside a few hours after dinner to catch up on an approaching deadline, you’re robbing your directed attention centers of the uninterrupted rest they need for restoration,” writes professor Cal Newport in Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World.
“Even if these work dashes consume only a small amount of time, they prevent you from reaching the levels of deeper relaxation in which attention restoration can occur. Only the confidence that you’re done with work until the next day can convince your brain to downshift to the level where it can begin to recharge for the next day to follow. Put another way, trying to squeeze a little more work out of your evenings might reduce your effectiveness the next day enough that you end up getting less done than if you had instead respected a shutdown.”
Your body and mind needs time to recharge – just like your iPhone does. Give yourself time to shut down and re-energize, or you’ll always be too stressed to study. Or work, or live, or enjoy time with friends.
1. Determine the cause of your stress. Poor time management? A busy environment? Illness?
If you’re stressed and anxious because you can’t keep up with your coursework, labs, extracurricular activities, work, and family obligations, then you need to focus on managing your time better. Poor time management involves procrastinating, underestimating the time it takes to complete tasks, and spending a lot of time on details that don’t matter. And that’s why time management tips decrease stress: when you have enough time to study, you feel less anxious and stressed — and you get better grades.
2. Create a schedule that fits your personality, college schedule, and lifestyle
When I was too stressed to study in college, I created a schedule that gave me time to work at my outside job, time to study, and time to play. I found that breaking my schedule into 30 or 60 minute chunks of time worked best — because even if I really really really didn’t want to study for a particular course, I knew I could study for just 30 or 60 minutes. And I wouldn’t stop if the studying was going well, which helped me get good grades in college. Creating a schedule is one of the best ways to succeed at college because it gives you structure and control.
3. Find ways to take control of your environment and schedule
The more power you have in your life (even perceived power), the less stress you’ll feel. Research shows that the amount of control you have in your life directly affects the amount of stress and anxiety you feel. Why are you too stressed to study at college? Are you overwhelmed by your class schedule, paid work responsibilities, or family obligations? Are you shy and nervous — do you need help overcoming anxiety about being in college? Finding ways to empower yourself will help with stress management.
If you’re too stressed to study because of financial problems, read What Are the Best Jobs for College Students?
4. Avoid unplanned study breaks
Not only did I have a study schedule in college, I have a strict work schedule now (I’m a full-time freelance writer and blogger). Before I created my current work schedule, I kept Twitter, email, my blogs, and various forums open on my laptop. If I got “stuck” for an idea or phrase, I’d surf through all those applications, which made me less productive and more stressed. Now I check email, Twitter, etc, at set times of the day. One of the best college stress management tips is to avoid surfing the internet, answering the phone, answering the door, or doing anything while you’re studying. Focusing on what you’re studying will help you get good grades in college.
5. Take 30 or 60 minutes a day to PowerJournal
This is another good stress management tip for college students, from The Other 8 Hours: Maximize Your Free Time to Create New Wealth and Purpose. My first hour of the day is spent writing in my journal, planning my workday and week, expressing my fears, frustrations, and achievements, and setting my personal and professional intentions. PowerJournaling allows me to clear my head of the fluff and focus on what matters. Taking time to think keeps you in tune with yourself, which is one of the best ways to manage stress and anxiety in college.
6. Build time into your daily schedule for mental strength training
I love Marcus Buckingham’s advice to work on our strengths and not worry about our weaknesses. He’s the author of Go Put Your Strengths to Work: 6 Powerful Steps to Achieve Outstanding Performance, and he encourages people to maximize their strengths. For instance, my strength is writing blog posts and learning about search engine optimization. My weaknesses is visiting other blogs and commenting (which is supposed to be a great way to market your blog). So instead of worrying about my weaknesses, I focus on my strengths. This empowers me and makes me feel in control of my career goals, which reduces my stress and anxiety.
7. Declutter during study breaks
Clutter increases stress and mental noise. Clutter and disorganization also leads to spending more money, losing track of things important papers, and forgetting what needs to be done. Clutter creates confusion and chaos. Decluttering your home and study space will reduce stress, increase happiness, and give you a sense of space and lightness.
- Reduce clutter in a way that makes you feel empowered. Don’t try and bite off big chucks if that’s stressful – make a game of it.
- Pick one drawer, or one pile, and go through it. Create new piles: Toss, Keep, Give Away.
- Don’t worry if you don’t know where something is supposed to go right away. Just know it goes in the KEEP pile.
- Don’t keep anything that isn’t beautiful, useful or something you absolutely love. For papers, if you could find it somewhere else with a few phone calls, toss it.
- If you do decide to do a big area, or an entire room, or your garage, take everything out and start with the empty space, even if it means you create total chaos somewhere else. The results when you’re done will be worth it entirely.
- Put things where you will think to find them, not where you think you should file them. If you always go out the same door, then put your phone and your keys right there, on a hook or a shelf, so you know exactly where it is every time.
- When you use something, put it back where it goes. Create a place for everything.
- Don’t be afraid to throw things out – no matter who gave them to you, no matter how much “sentimental” value you think they have. Keep the memories inside your heart and create peace in your space.
Clutter doesn’t just increase stress levels and distract you from studying properly, it affects your physical health. Respiratory illnesses from mold and dust, accidents from stumbling over clutter, and even fires are caused by clutter. If your kitchen is cluttered, you are less likely to eat nutritiously.
Back to professor Cal Newport:
“The problem here is not the amount of available hours (if you’re too stressed to study), but rather how each hour is spent. I know this from firsthand experience. While researching How to Become a Straight-A Student: The Unconventional Strategies Real College Students Use to Score High While Studying Less, I spent time with some of the country’s most accomplished students, and I can assure you that no matter how diligent you think you are, there is a Rhodes scholar out there who fits in three times the amount of work and activities you do and probably still manages to party harder than you would ever dare.”
How do you cope when you’re too stressed to study? Take a break, write about your stress. Expressing it will increase your clarity and focus.