Thursday, 19 March 2015

5 Tips to Help You Cope with Study

So you started the academic year with the best of intentions, but like every classic tale of everyday life, things started to pile up. It might be work, it might things happening at home, you might get sick... One way or the other, things start stacking on top of each other and you start to fall behind -- and if you're a natural stresshead like me, times get dark pretty quick. I'm notorious for leaving things right until the last minute; I think there have only been two occasions where I haven't started a paper the night before it's due.

So, if you're gearing up to pull an all-nighter to crack out a few thousand words, or if (unlike me) you're ahead of schedule and can feel the pressure starting to mount, here are a few things to remember:

1. Stretch frequently.

Seriously. I cannot stress how important it is to stretch your back and your neck; all the tension you'll build up otherwise is not good for you. I've suffered from increasing back and neck pain over the last couple of months -- part of it was from basically working too hard with muscles that are weaker than a glass of skim milk left out in the rain (or "too much movement" says the Witch Doctor osteologist), but a lot of it is also from sitting down for so long without so much as a cat stretch!

Be sure to stretch often. Turn your neck gently from side to side, stretch your arms out, rotate your shoulders, lay on your back for a little, bend over the back of your chair (I'm sure someone will tell me you're not actually supposed to do that last one). What I'm essentially talking about are those basic upper body warm up and cool down stretches -- something that's gentle but gets the job done. I've found that stretching more often than not keeps me focused on the task at hand, rather than trying to ignore it and shove it to the side.

Got actual back/neck problems? In that case, I'm not the girl to listen to -- make an appointment with an osteologist and see if they can sort you out. Ask them if they'd recommend doing yoga or pilates, as that's apparently supposed to help strengthen muscle mass.

2. Take short breaks, often.

I'm not saying that you need to plan a ten minute break every forty minutes, or reward yourself with fifteen minutes every time you finish reading a source for your paper. Such structure might help some, but if you're not that person then it will only help you to procrastinate. Try to keep your mind focused when you're reading, but if you feel your attention start to continually slip away, take a step back from the screen for a few minutes.

Honestly, do it.

Make yourself a drink, sit outside for a little bit, stick your iPod or your phone on shuffle and have a ten minute dance party! You might feel like taking a short break is the last thing you should be doing, but if you're going to stare at the same sentence over and over again for fifteen minutes... can it hurt? You'll come back to your work feeling refreshed.

3. If you can't live without social media, limit yourself.

I know a lot of girls who put themselves into lockdown as far as social media goes when it comes to exam time. They get their boyfriends or best friends or cats to change their password and log out. No social media, no temptation, correct?

Unfortunately, it doesn't work out so well for all of us. When I've tried to go completely cold turkey in the past, it's led to me to instances where I've been inactive, zoned out and itching to grab my phone and see if anyone's liked the Facebook status I put out just before I decided to leave it alone for a few days. The end result? I end up caving in and binging! If you honestly feel like going without Facebook or Twitter or Instagram will not help you stay focused, pick one and stick to it. Make that social media account is the one you check frequently. You'll be surprised by how little you do.

4. It's okay to power nap.

"Oh hell no," I hear some of you say. "Do you know how much work I have to do over the next week? I'm going to be working from the hours of 6am to 2am daily, I'm going to live on nothing but hot chips, expensive ice cream, M&Ms and sugar-free Mother until it's all done. SLEEP IS FOR THE WEAK." And okay, if you want to do that, do that. Heaven knows I've lived that lifestyle for years. That being said, I know when I need to stop and take time out for a few hours. Sure, maybe I still have 500 words to go on my 2000 word paper, but when I blink suddenly and realise that I typed this:

"Fortified bras are primary action men and Hamlet had one so tough."

...instead of this:

"Fortinbras is primarily a man of action and Hamlet one of thought."

Well, I know it's game over at that point. (And, if you're curious, yes, that actually happened.) There's no point in pushing out an essay if you're so tired that you hardly know what you're writing. Stop. Put your head down right where you are. Nap.

5. Try something else.

This works best if you've got the time to flit between two different assignments -- if you're down to the wire, not so much. If you've been trying to get your head around a paper for three hours but seem to be getting nowhere, ask yourself, "Do I need to take a step back?" It might be best for you to stop what you're working on and go look at something else.

Don't give up. Don't take a procrastination-fuelled break.

Having a go at another task may just be the thing that you need to snap out of the funk you're in. Your mind, while still working, can take a break from the task at hand by focusing on a new one -- and it's possible that you might find it easier to continue on with the old task once you've had some time away from it.

These tips are ones that I use to help keep me focused on my studies, especially when it begins to pile up and the clock starts ticking. Remember that although these work for me, they might not be for everyone -- so don't try something out if you think it'll end in disaster. You know what works best for you, and if you start experiencing pain or strange health-related symptoms, go see a doctor. Stat.

What are your best study tips?

Sarah xo

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