The Fall 2016 semester is wrapping up. For most students, this means stuffing our faces with food and white chocolate peppermint mochas to prevent stressful screaming from leaking out. Projects pile up, essays loom over our hunched shoulders, and deadlines creep toward us as time seems to march on at a quicker and quicker pace. Our work nights become longer as our alarm clocks ring earlier, and we laugh as we look at the hair we’ve pulled out forming a pile big enough to knit a medium sweater.
Stress is part of every college student’s life. I am by no means an expert on stress. However, I have been through this whole college thing long enough to be able to graduate in two weeks. That being said, I am in the fortunate position of being able to offer guidance where it is most necessary in dealing with stress.
First and foremost, stress is not always a bad thing. There are good forms of stress and bad forms of stress. Sometimes students will experience stress when they prepare for a final exam or when they’re about to give a presentation on a research project. Their brains use that stress to signal to their adrenal glands to produce epinephrine, which increases heart rate and heightens alertness. In your life, as a student, this often allows you to excel when you give that presentation or take that exam. In cases like these, stress is primarily a way for your body to better handle situations that are physically or mentally demanding.
Some forms of stress, however, are much more consuming. Let’s say a student has a massive project in a class she really don’t want to be in. She isn’t interested in the subject material and her grade is reflective of that. In most cases, it would be best for her to reject the source of these particular stressors outright. However, for many students, these stressors come from a class needed in order to graduate. If that is the case, there are a few things that can be done.
One suggestion is managing big ideas into sizeable chunks. If you go to a fancy restaurant and order a five-course meal, you wouldn’t want to eat all five courses at once, because, unless you pace yourself, you won’t be able to finish. Similarly, why would you want to tackle a major project all at once? Let’s say a student has a twenty page paper due in three weeks. One way to tackle this daunting task is breaking up the workload to write one page per day. If a research component is involved, she could spend the first week and a half reading source material and the second week and a half writing two pages per day. Similarly, she makes small goals that she can reach instead of waiting until two days before to realize she’s only halfway done with the workload.
While this advice may be useful to some, I recognize that many wish they had been given this advice much earlier in the semester and find themselves knee-deep in projects right now with deadlines approaching fast. If you are in this situation, you need quick solutions and fast. One such solution is the Pomodoro timer found at MarinaraTimer.com. The Pomodoro technique of studying recognizes that you are crunched for time, but also occasionally need a break to prevent burnout. The timer sets itself for twenty-five minutes, where you give yourself the goal of accomplishing as much as you can within those twenty-five minutes. When the timer goes off, give yourself a five minute break to relax, grab a snack, do some jumping jacks, or whatever you need to separate yourself from the work for a while. Once your five-minute break is over, jump back in with another twenty-five of work, followed by another take five.” For many students, racing against the clock leads to much more productivity in the long run as opposed to individual tasks such as finish writing the page or finish reading the section.
Perhaps one of the most important aspects of the Pomodoro technique is ironically to take breaks every half an hour or so. Without giving yourself breaks every now and then, you will burn out. Make sure to break up study time whenever you start to feel your focus wandering away from where it needs to be. Never underestimate the power of taking a walk around campus, especially if it can clear your mind enough to help you move along in your studies. Do some push ups or walk in place for a while to get your blood pumping. If you need to, power nap for fifteen minutes.
Above all of this, drink tea: blacks for the morning, greens for the afternoon, herbals for night. Tea bags cost mere fractions of what coffee costs per serving, and can dramatically improve your focus, metabolism, and sleeping cycles. I have yet to come across a school-related stressor that would not be made better by tea.
The best advice I could give, however, can only be given by a senior. This whole mess will be over sooner than you know it. The stress that you feel right now will seem so distant the closer you get to graduation and even further when you get flung into the real world. For now, specific word choice in your projects and papers is important, but eventually it will all be inconsequential. Take solace in the fact that almost nothing you stress about today will matter in ten years. You have so much to look forward to. Never forget that.