Stress is everywhere. I am surrounded by stressed people and I’m stressed myself.
But then again, that isn’t really a surprise when I remind myself that I’m sitting in a library full of students that are desperately trying to study the material that their lecturers read out to half-empty lecture theatres for almost a semester now. I see people yawning, some keep checking their phones and some have just given in to the temptation of browsing Facebook instead of reading yet another article on the works of Adam Smith. Occasionally someone leaves the library just to return ten minutes later with a cup of coffee, some sweets or one of those cheap energy drinks that the store in the atrium sells (4 for £1!), and while the retailers on campus rejoice more and more students slowly start to question whether they actually need that degree. But they’ll still go home eventually feeling that they’ve got a lot of work done – but they’ll be back just as stressed tomorrow.
I don’t know why but recently it seems like everyone measures their productivity based on the time that they spend in the library (or a coffee shop or a computer lab, the tendency is the same).
And while I understand that work is needed to get a degree I don’t think that that’s the solution. I mean, recently my flatmate came home at 4am – not from a nightclub, but from the library and when I asked him about it the next day he just shrugged his shoulder and said ‘I guess that’s what happens to students in the third year’.
But is it really?
I want to believe that it’s still possible to have fun even when university gets stressful, but to do so we need to use the time that we dedicate to writing essays and revising efficiently.
There’s no point in inducing ourselves into a caffeine-fuelled study session where we don’t learn anything and just end up even more tired the next day. I think if we manage to actually get some work done without being interrupted by Instagram notifications or the uncontrollable urge to sleep we actually have a lot of time to do things that are more fun. Also, isn’t it going to be much more useful to be well-rested for an exam rather than completely exhausted from cramming?
And, believe it or not, that is one of the reasons why I like stress. I struggle to get some work done at the beginning of the semester (well, apart from those few days where I’m still motivated to be on top of my work to get the best grades ever this time). When I get given my essay deadlines in the first few classes those dates sound incredibly far away – I mean, who knows what can happen in 12 weeks – so I just end up doing very little for them in that time. And if I actually start writing them I write 50 words before I feel good enough about myself to reward myself with a ‘well-earned’ study break.
But when the last few weeks before the exam start I actually realise that work needs to be done and somehow I put myself into a mood where I actually get things done. It seems like I actually needed the added pressure from the stress to cut out all the distractions so that I can actually focus on my work, and while I most certainly don’t enjoy working all the time I know that this is the way for me to get the best possible results. But there is a problem with that style of working.
Sometimes I find myself trying to do loads of work just because I feel like a brute-force method would get me furthest in that situation. But not every task can be done like this. For some things – and creativity is probably the most important case – it is actually better to take a step back and breathe. Because that’s what efficiency is actually about working smart instead of hard (well, sometimes hard work is needed, too).
Having done a few of these exam periods now I realised that there are a few things that I learned about dealing with them:
- Think before you work
- Be efficient with your time management
- Use stress to your advantage – let it motivate you
But I also know you’re not me, so what helps you cope with stress?