Written by Step Above Stigma's Chapter Coordinator, Haley Sturrock.
School can be overwhelming; I’m sure you have all felt that before. Feeling pressure from school and pushing yourself to do your best is healthy, it’s what you expected at University, but at what point does this become unhealthy? At what point are you allowing your mental health to deteriorate as a result of the pressures of your courses or your degree? This question can be answered differently for each student.
Personally, I know that I can get to a point where I am so preoccupied with being overwhelmed, that I can lose perspective of the bigger picture. I take care of my physical health by eating well, sleeping enough (well mostly) and exercising regularly. I also take advantage of some of the amazing resources Queen’s offers students. What I’d like to share today, however, are some tips and coping strategies that I’ve developed over my last two years of my undergrad.
Tip #1: Eliminate ‘school’ from ‘non-school’ times.
I find it challenging to relax sometimes even when I have chosen to take a break from school. I find it extremely hard to let go of school related stress, especially during times of the year when courses are picking up. To help with this, I have deleted the outlook app on my phone. This eliminates unwanted school interruptions like emails or OnQ notifications when I am not focusing on school work. Good-bye stress of being out with friends and getting an unwanted notification that ‘the due date is 2 days away’! I’m sure all Queen’s students have experienced that notification. I always knew I had that assignment due, and had allotted time to finish it, but getting that notification made me feel like I should be working on it at that moment.
Another strategy that I find helpful, is to agree not to talk about school for the night when I am with my friends. Occasionally there are times when it’s important to talk with your friends about your courses, or rant about the amount of work you have to do, but choosing to have discussions about anything but school can be quite refreshing and allow you to truly enjoy the company of your friends.
Tip #2: Know what works for you.
Knowing what works for you and how you will have the most productive day can help minimize stress. During mid-term and exam season, I know I need to plan my days to get the most work done possible. I have a general routine that has proven time and again to work for me. My most productive day looks like this: I have a large study block from around 8am-2pm with small breaks in between. After 2, or when I start to feel drained, I take a long break to go to the gym or go for a run outside, take a shower and eat dinner. By this time, I generally feel refreshed and am ready to do some more work. Knowing how you can perform optimally can help you plan and feel slightly less overwhelmed. Everyone has a different routine that works for them so try new strategies and test out what works best!
Tip #3: Decide when you are going to study, and when you are not.
Defining dedicated study times and dedicated down times is critical to creating balance in your life and alleviating the feeling of being overwhelmed. Those periods in your day when you are kind of working, kind of not, consume a lot of energy. Try to eliminate these unproductive periods in your day. I like to have very distinct times when I am not focusing on school, whether this be a dinner with friends or a simple study break in the day to watch some Netflix. Removing yourself fully from your school work can allow you to take the break you need and mentally give yourself room to breathe. If you are having one of those mornings where you are sitting at your laptop for hours and not really getting anything done, make the decision to take the morning off. Go do something you enjoy or get some extra rest if you need it. Spending mental energy trying to get yourself to study when you really just aren’t being productive does not help you in the long term. Most often when this happens you feel like you can’t waste any time in your day because you have so much to do, but remember, sitting at your laptop not getting any work done is actually worse for you than taking a break.
Learning to manage the stress we experience at school is important to our mental health as well as our academic achievement. Each of us is unique in how we study, how we handle stress and what strategies will help us along the way. It takes time to figure out what works for you and to be disciplined enough to incorporate them on a regular basis.
As a final thought, I try to remember that there is so much more to my time at Queen’s than the exact courses I am in and the grades I receive. When you are in times of stress, exhaustion, and frustration, remember who you are and why you are here. I am no expert on this, but I am working on it. Academics are important but are not everything, especially as we begin our 2020/2021 school year online, keep tabs on your mental health and the health of those around you. Work hard and set goals but allow yourself to take a step back when you need to and never lose perception of the bigger picture.