Mindfulness: Keeping Your Calm This Semester
It’s a tale as old as time: we start a new semester bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, full of optimism and motivation - but soon, disillusionment sets in, along with exhaustion, anxiety, procrastination, loneliness, and stress. It’s not uncommon to feel overwhelmed by the demands of school or university life - in fact, it’s pretty normal.
As if getting used to a new university, city, or full-time job wasn’t bad enough, it might feel like everyone around you is two steps ahead, your professors assume you’ve memorised the materials before the semester even started, and everyone but you has already made friends. To keep up, you drink 4 coffees a day, stay up all night to study, and fuel yourself with sugary snacks and fried fast food. Spoiler alert: none of those coping mechanisms are going to help you stay sane this semester!
Studies = burnout?
Anyone who says that student life is a carefree walk in the park clearly never dealt with courseworks or exams. In a meritocracy like ours, even students are exposed to an enormous level of stress. According to an AOK study from 2016, more than half of all students feel very stressed. Burnout has never been as common as it is today. The consequences? Lack of motivation, deteriorating performance, health problems, and increasing dropout rates.
But where is this stress coming from? Let’s be honest: most of us aren’t neurosurgeons. If we fail, it’s not a matter of life or death. (If you’re reading this and you are a neurosurgeon - keep doing what you’re doing)!
Studies: the best time of your life or a one-way ticket into a lifetime of work?
Studying should be the best time of your life. It should be a time of self-realization, pursuing your curiosity, and accumulating knowledge. Studying means making new friends and finding yourself. Every now and then, step off the gas and remind yourself to be present. You’ll work for the rest of your life!
Keep reading for a list of tips on how to be mindful, avoid stress, and reach your full potential.
Tip 1: Say STOP!
Have you ever noticed how stress tends to work its way up your body, from your fingertips into your stomach, your neck, your cheeks? Say STOP by interrupting your activity and simply pausing (Stop) and breathing in very deeply and consciously (Take a breath). There is only you and your body. Take a look at the area around you and let your senses take in what you feel, smell, sense, hear (Observe). Then, consciously continue with your activity (Proceed). The key here is integration rather than defense - a practice of perception derived from Zen Buddhism. Sound too esoteric to you? Don't knock it til you try it. Have you ever seen a stressed out Buddhist monk? They’ve been doing this for hundreds of years.
Tip 2: Hakuna Matata
It may sound easier said than done, but a positive mental and emotional state will result in an improved performance, better concentration and more resilience. So, how do you become a ray of sunshine? It’s simple: make the conscious decision not to be stressed. Break negative habits, and replace them with positive ones through repetition. Remind yourself in the mirror every morning (in a pinch, a post-it with a happy quote will help)! Next time you're cramming in the library and your mountain of to-do’s feels like it’s collapsing onto you: Hakuna Matata! Break your tasks into smaller chunks and reward yourself with a small treat between each achievement - and then rinse and repeat. Through this repetition, your stressful old behaviour patterns will melt away.
Tip 3: Rinse and repeat
Did you know that your brain only develops new synapses by going through repeated routines? This means you can train your mind to be a relaxed and positive while studying. Give it a try and set yourself the challenge to replace a bad habit with a good one, and stick with it for 21 days. Soon, it will feel like second nature.
Tip 4: Reward yourself
You have completed a task well and are already rushing to your next assignment? Stop, stop, stop! Give yourself some praise! Sound weird? Try it! Don't always be so strict - be kind to yourself. For instance: after power-reading 15 pages, treat yourself to a delicious coffee. After an exam, celebrate with pizza night. When studying for a quiz, allow yourself one M&M for every right answer. Try and make your study routine playful, and reward yourself every now and then.
Tip 5: Love yourself!
Your stomach is growling, you’re cold, you’ve actually had to pee for the last 3 hours… Listen to your body! Be grateful for the signals it gives you and what it allows you to achieve, and show thanks by responding to those signals.
Tip 6: Let go of the perfectionist
Nobody’s perfect - we all have our weaknesses and flaws. Sometimes we fail exams, give mediocre presentations, or write nonsensical paragraphs. As soon as you accept that nobody expects perfection, you’ll find it so much easier to get started, and to get back up after failure.
Tip 6: Breathe properly
Don’t worry, we aren’t going to tell you how to breathe. But we are going to tell you about how to improve your breathing! Have you heard of the 4-7-8 method? It’s a breath regulation technique that helps calm you. How to do it: breathe in deeply for 4 seconds. Hold your breath for 7 seconds. Exhale for 8 seconds. Repeat this until you feel zen. This particular technique whips your oxygen balance into shape and gives you a kick of freshness. By the way, this method works wonders if you have trouble sleeping, too!
Tip 7: Live more consciously
Remix your routines. On the way to the university, pay attention to the rustling of the treetops, to the feeling of your muscles when walking, to your breathing, rather than running through tomorrow’s schedule or stressing about yesterday’s exam. Live in the now!
Tip 8: Stay on the ball
Stick to your routines and be consistent. When you get used to tackling things, even the most banal ones like making your bed or cleaning your desk, you kick procrastination and stress in the a**.
Tip 9: Meditation
It’s important to withdraw from your everyday stress every now and then. Try to break through disturbing thought patterns through meditation. Know when to fight and when to go with the flow, and recognise that it’s not always worth wasting your strength to fight against obstacles.
Tip 10: Separation
You are not your job, you are not your studies, you are not the money you make, you are not your failed exam. Separate yourself from your daily tasks - you are you, a unique person with emotions, talents, and your own personality!
Tip 11: Do it together
You're not alone! Studying in a group is great for exchanging ideas (or frustrations and fears)! A sense of community is important and can carry you through any heavy storm that life might bring you. Start a study group and succeed with friends and fellow students!
Tip 12: Create positive freedom
Don't drown in the ocean of pressure to perform. Create yourself a beautiful island of thoughts, an oasis for you to pursue your hobbies, meet up with friends, or just do nothing. Allow boredom and embrace emptiness every now and then - you don't have to fill every gap in your schedule. In order to be creative, you need occasional moments of stillness to allow new genius ideas to arise.
Tip 13: Get organised
As a student with no regulated working hours, it’s not uncommon for you to study for more than 10 hours a day. That shouldn't to be the case - try setting limits and organising your time better, so that you can enjoy your time off guilt-free. Use tools like the Pomodoro method to break up your study sessions into smaller chunks and reward yourself with small breaks.
Tip 14: Remember your happiness
Gratitude goes a long way. Buy yourself a nice journal and dedicate five minutes every night to writing down three things that you were thankful for that day - you'll notice a change in attitude very soon.
In conclusion? Incorporate these tips bit by bit and stay consistent. You won’t become relaxed overnight, it requires practice and repetition. But you can do anything. Take babysteps. Most importantly, take care of yourself, enjoy your studies, and have a good time along the way.
Your Study Together Team