Slaying Stress with Science

Jonathan Cooke

We’ve all done it. From first years going through their first bout of January exams, to third years who just want to get it over with, we’ve all left revision a bit late now and again. We’ve all looked outside the windows of the IC at 3am and wondered why we waited until the day before to start writing the essay that counts for 50% of the module. It’s natural to feel stressed in these situations, and there are lots of ways to alleviate that feeling. But, do any of these methods have any scientific proof?

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Image Credit: Wikimedia

Have a Plan

It may seem simple, but making a plan for how you are going to tackle a deadline or exam can be very beneficial. A Harvard study published in 2011 that surveyed 3,000 adults found that the simplest and most effective way to combat stress was to plan out how you were going to tackle the problem and get the hardest part of the process out of the way first, allowing you to do the easier things later.

So, if you’re struggling with that essay, focus on writing it first, get a first draft sorted out weeks before the deadline. This affords you time to do the easier things, such as referencing and checking spelling/grammar at a much more leisurely pace. If you’re revising for an exam, get the harder stuff out of the way. Pick the topic that bores you the most and revise that first, that way, as you get closer to the exam you get to revise the stuff that interests you more.

Getting the hard things out of the way and crafting a to do list for what you want to get done in the week are really simply ways to space your workload out and keep stress levels down.

Take a Break

Spacing your work out not only gives you more time to work on it, it gives you more opportunities to procrastinate. Even the best of us are guilty of it, we go on YouTube and promise ourselves we’ll only watch one video, then suddenly it’s the next day and you’re watching a chimpanzee riding a segway (this, if anyone is interested, is my favourite procrastination link).

You might feel guilty for filling your time up so wastefully, but in reality procrastination is helpful way for your brain to alleviate stress. Many us enjoy watching videos that are completely separate from our degree area; cat videos, for instance, number up to 2 million on YouTube alone and have on average 12,000 views on each one, which is more than any other category of video!

Listening to music, watching your favourite YouTuber or just having a good laugh all have been shown to help release endorphins, which help combat the stress you might be feeling. Of course this must be done in moderation or you wouldn’t get any work done, but allowing yourself a break every so often from work allows you to de-stress and approach your work fresh.

Go Outside

A lot of recent work suggests that going outside for a walk not only helps to alleviate stress but can improve your overall well-being. A study published in the Landscape and Urban Planning journal found that people who live nearer greener pastures and open fields tend to feel less stress than those that don’t. Why? Getting out into the fresh air and sunlight helps them to relax and feel more at ease with their surroundings.

Additionally, living near such greenery necessitated a moderate amount of light exercise. Exercise has long been shown to help people keep a positive mood than those who don’t exercise, as recognized by the World Health Organization in 2011.

Now, this by no means you have to start hitting the gym; it isn’t for everyone. But if you’re feeling a little burnt out from work, get outside for a bit: go for a 15 minute walk (take a coat if it’s raining) and give yourself time to relax.

Whilst we hope the methods mentioned here are useful in the goal of combatting stress, for some of our readers they might not. If that is the case, and you feel that you are struggling to cope, we here at PH7 would like to point you to a few resources that are available to help you focus:

The University of Sheffield offers a wide array of techniques which can found on their webpage here: https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/ssid/well-connected/academic-pressures/stressed/managing-exam-anxiety

Additionally, the University Counselling Service offers 30 minute triage appointments, which allow you to discuss your stress with a trained counsellor and work out what is best for you: http://www.sheffield.ac.uk/ssid/counselling

Nightline is also a fantastic resource that has trained volunteers that are available to listen to you, no matter how large or small the problem from 8pm to 8am every night. Tel: 0114 222 8787

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