StressLess StudyTime: Tolerating Stress
Heya Studytimers, it’s our second-to-last StressLess StudyTime post today, but it’s an important one, Tolerating Stress.
This is a crucial part of the puzzle when it comes to dealing with exams and an important skill to build upon everything we’ve talked about so far. You’ll be in many stressful situations throughout your life, so this is a skill that keeps on giving.
Just to recap, here’s what we’ve talked about so far:
- Screen Addictions
- Tolerating Stress
The weird thing that worry, procrastination, perfectionism and screen addiction all have in common is that people who struggle with them often also have trouble with self-criticism.
If your friend sat beside you the whole time you were studying and said:
“You’re so dumb, the rest of the class can do this in about five minutes.”
“There’s no way you’ll make it into university, you can’t even do an achieved level question.”
“You know Sam? He thinks you’re stupid, in fact even your parents secretly think you are.”
“Do you think you’ll ever get anywhere in life like this? Just do it, you baby.”
We know instantly that a friend like this is toxic and wouldn’t have much trouble telling them to get out of our lives, #nofakefriends2k18. However, in times of stress, many of us say these things to ourselves in our head.
We’re somehow under the impression that saying these things to ourselves will motivate us to get more done. Just like we talked about in our perfectionism article, if we have a strict parent or teacher who talks / talked to us very critically to us, we might internalise the voice. Pressures we feel from society or competitive school environments can also make us tell ourselves off for things in our heads.
Here’s an example:
Justin’s Dad gets very stern with him when he doesn’t get a good grade on maths tests. Once, he gets such a bad grade that his Dad bans him from using the computer for a week. Over time, Justin gets his Dad’s voice in his head saying things like ‘don’t you want a good job?’ every time he’s trying to study. It increases Justin’s stress and makes it hard to focus.
Sometimes, we don’t even notice when these negative internal voices are popping up until we pay attention.
They can be a subtle as feeling a hateful or useless feeling towards ourselves. We might think that they might make us work harder, but most people actually work better when they are rewarded for good work than when they are punished for bad work. These self-critical voices are effectively self-inflicted punishment.
How do these self-critical voices look in each of the different topics we’ve talked about so far:
Worry – Self-criticism often makes the worrier doubt that they will be able to overcome the objects of their concern. They spend valuable study time doubting themselves and worrying about what will happen when they ‘inevitably’ fail.
Perfectionism – The perfectionist holds themselves very high standards and mentally beats themselves when they can’t meet them. They waste valuable study time noticing how all their work fails to meet their standard.
Procrastination – The procrastinator makes it harder to tear themselves away from procrastination by criticising themselves for doing it in the first place. They tell themselves a story about being lazy, and so they get caught in a cycle of self-criticism and not working.
1. Exercise one is one we did in the perfectionism article, but it’s totally worth doing again if you’ve already done it.
Note down examples of critical self talk during a study session (or if you’re a procrastinator, while you’re doing that).
Try and rephrase them as if you’re consoling a friend who was saying this to you.
Rephrasing the criticisms above would look like this:
“You practiced a lot of questions yesterday, so I’m not surprised you can’t remember them all perfectly”
“This one test doesn’t define how smart you are.”
“This was a really hard version of the exam, I’m not surprised you didn’t have spare time to check your answers.”
“You did hours and hours of practice, it made sense to take a break and go to Neve’s barbeque.”
2. Exercise two is today’s mantra, ‘Ride that wave’.
The idea of ride that wave is that when we’re studying, we experience waves of stress. That might look something like this:
For a while, we’ll be in a flow state, we know what we’re doing and everything seems fine. Then we come across a difficult concept, a question we can’t answer or a something else that makes our stress peak. This is when we are most vulnerable to the shark that is self-criticism. As we’ve already discussed, self-criticism is not good for study.
If that frenemy of ours was sitting next to us while we were trying to study and laying out all those horrible comments, everyone in their right mind would leave the room. Often, when this voice in our head is banging out criticisms at us, we ‘leave the room’ by using coping strategies. These are things like Netflix, internet, gaming, tidying, exercise etc, pick your poison.
The goal of the ‘ride that wave’ mantra is to imagine yourself like a champion surfer on a surfboard.
When you notice a big wave of stress is rolling up, remind yourself to ‘ride that wave’ and don’t let it crash on you. Understand that stress comes and goes in waves, and you have to ride that swell of stressful study into the next flow state. Each wave of stress will pass if you don’t fall off your board into a coping strategy.
3. Exercise 3 – Keep it Simple Stupid
If you’re getting overwhelmed by how much you have to study for a certain area, your brain will be even more likely to have a big wave of stress. The best thing to do when you have a lot to do and aren’t sure where to start is to use a tunnel vision approach.
Throw out all grand ideas of massive failure or great success. Decide on the single most important thing you should learn before your exam, and tunnel vision to learning that. Don’t worry about anything except grasping that concept. Often it’s best to that’s the thing you least understand, so be prepared to be riding plenty of waves.
Exercise three is to choose one thing that’ll help the most in your exams, and write that down and put it in front of you as you study.
That’ll help you focus on your goal. Once you’ve completed one goal, you can move onto the next. This way, you can make major progress on your goal without getting overwhelmed by self-criticism which normally comes up when you think about the bigger questions and goals of your life.