Are you so chill you’ve never stressed out about an assignment or an exam—not even a little bit? If so, congratulations, you’re so chill you probably fart ice cubes. For the rest of us, studying, assignments, class projects, exams, maybe even juggling part-time work, can get a bit stressful. To help, I've come up with a list of tips to make studying a breeze:
Set a timeframe and stick to it
Prioritize your work according to deadlines and allow a set amount of time for each activity—with breaks in between. Only you know what you are capable of and how long you can effectively study for, so take this and your learning style into account (check out Kendra's story about finding her learning style). Not only will this force you to take breaks, it’ll make your workload less overwhelming.
Your ability to focus and retain information starts to diminish around the half hour mark. Have you ever found yourself staring at a textbook for so long that you actually understand less and less? In order to study and learn effectively, don’t forget to actually take your breaks!
Eat real food and stay hydrated
What you use to fuel your body effects your academic ability and your mental health. Staying hydrated improves concentration and motor skills, makes us feel less fatigued, and keeps our heart rate and body temperature at an optimal level. Reach for water or tea (try caffeine-free herbal teas) instead of coffee (a diuretic), alcohol (a depressant), juice, or pop (full of high-fructose corn syrup). And it comes as no surprise that if all you eat is ramen and KD you’re missing out on important nutrients that support your cognitive ability.
Practice good study habits
Cramming is never a good idea, and won’t help you to retain information long-term. Avoid the stress of a late-night cram session and allow yourself time to actually get to know the material. Establish study strategies that support your learning style: perhaps repetition is your thing, or flash cards, or acronyms —remember Roy G Biv for the colours of the rainbow? Creating games like jeopardy or making up songs to remember material also helps.|
Move your body
Get up from your desk once in a while and stretch, do some burpees, run up and down the stairs, or go outside and take a walk. Physical activity boosts your circulation, increasing the amount of blood and oxygen flowing to your brain. This helps you to focus and be more effective in your studying.
Step away from social media
Let’s be real, most of us use social media as a distraction from our responsibilities. The longer you spend social media, the more time you waste and the less you study. Try shutting off your devices or putting them in a different room while you work. Contrary to popular belief, not checking your feeds for an hour won’t kill you. Try using social media as a reward: after you finish an assignment take a break for some Candy Crush or to check your messages. Set a timer to avoid getting sucked into the procrastinator’s vortex!
Choose the right soundtrack
Sometimes the sound of silence can be unnerving, or your roommates are noisy and you just can’t concentrate. Maybe you find listening to music while studying to be too distracting, but perhaps the right soundtrack could help you get into the zone so you can focus, or help you to unwind after a study session. Check out this article on The Best Music for Studying and browse numerous playlists on Google Play Music, Songza, iTunes, and YouTube.
Practice your superhero stance
Hear me out: pick a power stance and hold it for 30 seconds. When you hold a power stance you feel powerful and confident, right? What you’re doing is essentially tricking your brain: psychological studies show that holding powerful poses triggers the brain to release ‘feel-good’ endorphins that boost confidence. Try this before a job interview, a big test, or even a first date.
Watch or read something that makes you smile
Laughing, smiling, feeling inspired—all these things release endorphins that make us feel good and enhance concentration. Watching a show/video or reading a book that makes you smile can be a nice break from studying that boosts your mood. It’s scientifically proven that going into a test happy helps you perform better, so bring on the ridiculous kitten videos, The Ellen Show, Lip Sync Battle, or whatever it is that makes you smile. The happier you are, the better you feel, the better you do.
Get a teddy bear
We could all use a good cuddle once in a while, and not all of us have pets. While genuine human connection is important, sometimes that takes a lot more time and effort than we have to give. Take a five minute study break to snuggle your teddy bear and then get back to it. It’s a lot harder to do this with an actual human, plus teddy bears don’t snore and you don’t have to buy them dinner first. They also make great pillows. Now that you’re an ‘adult’ you can finally buy that gigantic teddy bear from Costco that your parents never bought for you.
Treat yo self
Celebrate accomplishments, big or small, with rewards. Rewards offer an incentive to study, and there’s no shame in a little external motivation once in a while. Aced a big exam? Do something you love, like go to a steam bath, a hockey game, or a play. Have a special snack when you get to the end of a chapter, cook a favourite meal or order takeout after a major study session, or watch an episode of your favourite show as a reward for a job well done.
Don’t force it
If you’re not in the right frame of mind to study, don’t. If you force yourself to study when you’re struggling to focus on the material you won’t retain the information anyways. Maybe a good night’s sleep or a good conversation with a friend will serve you better than studying. Don’t shirk your work entirely, just learn to recognize when your mind is elsewhere and attend to whatever is bugging you first.
Make time for things you enjoy
Along with all that studying, be sure to make time for extra-curricular activities to stay balanced. Doing things you enjoy makes you happy, in turn reducing your stress levels and improving your overall mental health. Play sports, go to the gym, be in a play, join a club, or pick up a colouring book (this is a great stress release and can even be a form of self-expression or meditation).
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