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Three ways to deal with new academic stress

By Chelsea Hall, 2nd-year Life Sciences student

At the start of every school year there is an unparalleled initial thrill, regardless of whether you’re returning to school or beginning your university experience for the first time. During the first month, opportunities seem endless and many students overindulge in the social environment. But then the honeymoon period ends: quizzes, assignments and midterms that at one point seemed like a distant, but necessary, evil are no longer so far away. Accompanying the looming deadlines and assessments can be academic stress. Academic stress, if it’s not handled effectively, can negatively impact a student’s mental, physical and emotional wellbeing.

But there are ways to cope with academic stress effectively! Below are some strategies for dealing with academic stress:

1) To prevent or (more accurately) limit academic stress, manage your time wisely

Time management is said to be a top predictor of academic success and is critical in preventing stress. Common and effective time management tricks are: creating a weekly schedule (list all commitments from time spent getting ready in the morning to your class schedule as this will enable you to see where you have study time available); term calendars (this way due dates and examinations won’t be able to creep up fast on you); lastly, consider school to be your full time job (work from 9am-5pm). No one is born with great time management; it is a skill that can be developed with practice and by using the right strategies!

2) During periods of high academic stress, reduce your anxiety

Despite our best preparations, feeling tense about school is almost inevitable. Learning to recognize and address these feelings is critical in maintaining your mental well-being. Although it may seem intuitive now, maintaining balance and good health is crucial. Not eating (or not eating well), skipping out on your workout or removing yourself from friends and family all for the greater good of capitalizing on work time is not beneficial!

If test anxiety gets to you, there are several techniques to try. Techniques include mentally practice going through the testing experience; walk into the test with your head up and shoulders back; or physical relaxation (take deep breaths, close your eyes visualize warm sunshine…). For the most part, students cannot avoid academic stress entirely. You can, however, learn ways to work through it.

3) When your regular coping strategies stop working, use your resources

Although a certain level of stress is unavoidable, it’s important to distinguish what is normal for you from what is an unhealthy level of anxiety. Academic stress should not impede your ability to perform day-to-day tasks nor should it consume your entire life. Queen’s recognizes the demanding environment that is university and sincerely wants its student body to succeed — so we have a lot of resources here! Academic resources include the Writing Centre, Learning Strategies (and us, the Peer Learning Assistants!); and the Academic Grievance Centre. Beyond the academic resources, I can say from first hand experience that volunteers at the Peer Support Centre or counselors at Health Counseling and Disabilities Services are always available to provide a listening ear and can assist you with developing coping mechanisms for stress.

As the school year progresses, workloads become more demanding and some stress is a normal reaction. Using these coping strategies may help you get through the tough parts of university.

Photo courtesy of Benjamin Watson under Flickr Creative Commons Attribution license 2.0.