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Reduce your stress: How to make learning more relaxed

Katja Mayer 12.04.2012
Preparing for seminars, writing essays, learning for exams – studying is extremely time-consuming. In addition to these responsibilities, you also have social commitments and need free time for essential, day-to-day jobs such as shopping, cleaning and administrative chores. If you have to hold down a job on top of all this, it won’t be long before time gets tight. Sometimes too tight. No matter how hard you try, your to-do list just keeps getting longer.

The result: pure stress. You’ll end up having to rush through things to get everything done – which doesn’t exactly make the situation any better. Instead, you increasingly feel as though you cannot cope with your life or hold up under the pressure. But whether you do or not is up to you! Stress is your reaction to dealing with pressure. The circumstances are at most the triggers, not the causes, of stress. This is where time management comes into play.

Just what are stress factors then?

Triggers of stress can be split into two groups. Internal triggers include, for instance, high demands (from others or yourself), unfulfilled wishes or even a fear of rejection. But the number one internal trigger of stress is and will remain perfectionism. Nothing puts you under more pressure than feeling as though you always have to do better.

External causes, on the other hand, include unfavorable environmental conditions, such as noises and smells, traffic jams and waiting times, hot and cold temperatures as well as criticism, danger, aggression and pain. Anxiety, grief, anger, insecurity, dissatisfaction and discontentment, loss of people and objects are also external triggers of stress. Even boredom and monotony can cause stress.

Stress can be positive in the short term by boosting your levels of mental and physical activity to deal with the stressful situation – but long-term stress is bad for your health. It impairs your ability to concentrate, makes it more difficult for you to focus and learn, and leads to forgetfulness. This doesn’t only have a serious impact when you need to prepare for exams, it has also been proven to make people ill in the long term. The most well-known forms: burn-out and depression.

The impact of stress

Typically, stress can cause physical ailments such as muscular tension and pain, as well as nausea, heartburn and stomachaches. People react differently to stress, meaning it can even cause noises in the ears, tinnitus, allergies, cardiac arrhythmia and circulatory complaints. That’s when things start to get serious. Consider your symptoms as a warning sign from your body telling you: “That’s enough!”

Stress can have a psychological impact as well. People suffering from stress are often oversensitive, easily annoyed, feel overwhelmed and become withdrawn. Others, however, become aggressive and start hurting themselves or those around them. The worst thing is that legal and sometimes even illegal drugs can help minimize stress – albeit only for a short while. This means that there is the possibility of potential drug abuse or addiction. At best, alcohol and cigarettes only relieve the symptoms – and not the causes ­­– of stress. They don’t make the situation any better and you’ll only end up exhausting your own body.

How to alleviate stress

If want to alleviate stress, your first point of call should be to determine the causes. For example, if your reaction to stress is causing psychological problems, you should work on your attitude. Generally speaking, it’s enough to do a job correctly – not perfectly. People will still like you even if you aren’t able satisfy every single expectation. And if they don’t, you seriously need to reconsider who your real friends are.

On the other hand, reorganizing your workload can help you combat procrastination – otherwise known as putting things off! Fixed working hours and priority lists help you to complete all tasks one by one, but only if you fight against your lack of motivation and actually stick to your schedule. Self-discipline and rewards are a great help in these situations. Reward yourself when you stick to the plan and manage to cross a job off the list.

When the waves do start crashing over your head, it really helps to take a break before you do anything. Take a deep breath, sit back and sort everything out in peace and quiet – that is always the best way. Then, make a plan of how you can tackle all of your jobs in the remaining time – only after you’ve done that should you get cracking.

The best solution: Prevent stress

It’s always better to prevent stress than to combat it. In most cases, a good plan is enough to make existing problems manageable and avoid feeling like you just can’t do it. Good friends can help you by giving you encouragement and psychological support.

If all else fails, you need to prioritize your tasks. Everything that isn’t important should be left until later. So should things that aren’t urgent. Things that absolutely have to get done should be made a top priority – these tasks should be dealt with immediately.

To do this, you’ll need a good learning environment:

  •   A desk for your books and laptop. 
  • No disturbances such as noise or roommates. 
  • Working hours that accommodate your daily routine.

The better the environment matches your habits, the more successfully you will be able to work. Hack my Study identified three ways to cope with stress: 1. Relax your body 2. Clear your mind and 3. Become happy! You can find further information on managing stress on this page with more valuable advice: Study Guide & Strategies.

Editor: Katja Mayer in collaboration with the Karrierebibel

Check out this video where Brooks Doherty, Academic Dean at Rasmussen College in Brooklyn Park, MN, shares three time management tips for students: