OUT OF MY MIND!

STRESS, PRESSURE, & STUDYING
Tips to Make it All Work For You

John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

September 23, 1998


With school once again in full swing, a lot of people have questions relating to how to best deal with school-related stress, peer pressure, effective studying skills, and stuff like that. Here's a brief rundown of things you can do to help yourself.

Stress

By far, one of the most common complaints related to school and course work is how stressful the actual classes and homework can be. Everyday pressures and expectations are put on to you by your teachers and professors. There are some easy things you can do to help relieve some of this stress:
1. Schedule Your Time
So many students simply have no plan of attack. They put schoolwork as the last thing they will think of and work on in their lives. Since it is put off to the last minute, it creates a load of unnecessary stress. Instead of putting it off, hit it head on and get it out of the way (or at least get a part of it out of the way first. If you set aside no more than a half hour or an hour once a day to deal with course work and reading, you'll feel better in the long run and be better prepared for the next class.

2. Reduce Cramming
Every student, to one degree or another, crams for tests and quizzes. Try and reduce this as much as possible by keeping up with the course work and reading throughout the quarter or semester. If you don't have time to read the whole chapter, skim the chapter and read under the major section headings. At least then you'll have a more general idea of what the material covers when you do cram, and what to expect.

3. Keep Your Body Fit & Healthy
Stress can be relieved through all of the traditional means you probably know so well -- activity, exercise, socializing with friends. But you'll feel even less stressed-out all the time if you have a regular schedule of physical activity, such as playing sports, bike riding, tennis, hiking, or just taking long walks around the campus or neighborhood. By keeping your body in shape, you will free up time for your mind to relax and better concentrate.

4. Find Friends & Classmates to Share With
This may seem a bit cheesy, but it's not. People who share the same pressures and tasks in school have a lot in common, and can relieve a lot of stress just by talking to one another about it. So if that French class is getting you down, who better to bitch to and get some of that stress out than with someone else who is in your class? It can help a great deal.

Peer Pressure

Peer pressure is a different kind of stress we all have to live with in school. Friends asking you to join in with them and do things you don't really feel comfortable with doing.

     The key to coping with peer pressure is learning about yourself and discovering your own hidden reservoir of self-esteem and self-confidence. The answer to peer pressure is to stand up for your beliefs, because they are important to you. Why should someone else's beliefs be more important than your own? If you hang out with a bunch of friends who smoke, but you don't feel like smoking, who cares? Why should it make any difference to them?

     It shouldn't, and often peer pressure is related to control issues within the group of friends. If one person in the group "rebels," then the group loses some of its cohesiveness, or closeness on a superficial level. On a deeper level, it shouldn't matter. But some young people often are influenced more easily by the superficial. So you need to be aware of that and understand how it works in terms of peer pressure.

     Real friends will eventually back down and accept your decision. Otherwise, it may be time to find some new friends.

Effective Studying

Whole books have been written about this, so I can't cover all the details important to learning effective studying skills. And that's an important and ironic point -- many times you have to learn these skills! It's not something they ever teach you, but it is something they should teach.

1. Set Aside Time to Study
As in the first point about reducing your stress levels, scheduling time to study is an important aspect to effective studying. While you can do it on the spur of the moment or whenever the mood hits you, I think you'll find the mood isn't hitting you often enough to keep up with all the things you are expected to learn in school. It's intensive, and you have to intensive to stay on top!

2. Study in Blocks of Time
Some people have a real problem with sitting down for an hour or two and studying every day. "A whole hour at my desk without the TV being on! You've got to be kidding me!" Okay, fine then. How about 15 or 30 minute blocks of time where you study for a while, then take a 5-10 minute break, go outside, take a walk, catch a few videos on TV, and then come back? Do that for an hour or two and say to yourself, "If I can last this entire study time, I'm going to hang with my friends tonight." Then, keep to your word. Rewarding yourself for your accomplishments in studying can be a very powerful motivator.

3. Ask Questions
You're studying, but you come across a section or equation or something which you just can't make heads or tails of. Unfortunately, you know something related to it is going to be on the next exam. Many students are simply afraid to ask a question when they don't understand something. This is a big mistake, since the whole purpose of school is to ask questions and learn. Whether you ask a friend who's in your class, the TA, or the teacher themselves, don't be afraid to ask. It's the only way you will ever learn.

4. Don't Over-Schedule
School's primary purpose may be to learn, but don't get carried away with it. I know students who take 20 credit hours a semester and are proud of the fact. That's silly. School is much more than simply about learning book stuff. It's about learning about socializing, finding out who you are, and exploring different aspects of your life, your self, and relationships with others. Enjoy the entire experience! Don't schedule too many classes and don't spend every waking moment studying.

These are some tips which I hope you will find helpful in the upcoming school year. Good luck!

 - John

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 27 Jan 2007
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Courage does not always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, "I will try again tomorrow."
~ Mary Anne Radmacher