Stress and burnout are major issues for students that can negatively impact academic performance, mental health and overall wellbeing. Stress can significantly impair our cognitive functions like memory and concentration, which are essential for learning.
Burnout saps motivation and energy levels, making it difficult to fully engage in your studies. So, combating burnout and cultivating resilience is crucial for students to have a fulfilling, successful university experience. Here, we’ll cover why stress is so detrimental and provide actionable ways to lower stress, avoid burnout and create moments of calmness in your routine.
Why stress is detrimental to studies
Stress can seriously impair several cognitive functions that are essential for productive studying and academic success. When you experience high levels of stress, it becomes more difficult to concentrate, focus your attention, and effectively take in and retain information. Stress hormones like cortisol interfere with efficient thinking, problem-solving and decision-making capabilities.
Too much stress also negatively impacts memory and the ability to store and retrieve information. Research shows that stress actually changes the structure of the hippocampus, the part of the brain involved in memory formation. This makes it harder to encode new information for later recall.
In addition, stress and anxiety often lead to poor sleep quality. Lack of sleep is detrimental to learning and academic performance. Studies demonstrate that sleep deprivation reduces cognitive faculties, impairs concentration, and hinders the ability to retain information from classes or textbooks.
Stress can also sap motivation and engagement. When you're burnt out, you have less energy and drive to fully participate in coursework or studies. Prolonged stress leads to fatigue, lack of interest and difficulty concentrating, making it nearly impossible to excel.
Managing stress levels is key to having the energy, focus, cognitive abilities and motivation required for success at university. Finding ways to lower stress can help safeguard the mental capacities and energy essential for high academic achievement.
Combating burnout and stress
Incorporating mindfulness practices into your routine can help calm the mind, reduce stress, and increase focus and clarity. Meditation is one powerful way to achieve this. Even brief 5-10 minute meditation sessions have been shown to lower stress hormone levels and boost concentration. There are many excellent guided meditation apps that make it easy to start a meditation habit.
Another highly effective mindfulness activity is forest bathing. This involves taking slow, mindful walks through nature while using all your senses to observe your surroundings. Studies demonstrate that spending time immersed in nature lowers stress, elevates mood, reduces blood pressure, and boosts creativity.
You can enhance the stress-relieving benefits of forest bathing by incorporating photo journaling. Taking photographs of beautiful natural scenes during your walks helps you fully engage with your environment, and reviewing the photos later on allows you to recall the positive emotions you felt. This serves as a powerful relaxation tool when you're feeling overwhelmed.
Practising mindfulness techniques like meditation, forest bathing and photo journaling helps reset an overstressed nervous system. Integrating these activities into your daily or weekly routine can go a long way in preventing burnout.
Incorporating physical activity into your weekly routine is another effective way for students to manage stress and avoid burnout. Exercise has been scientifically shown to relieve anxiety, improve sleep quality, boost energy levels and enhance focus – all of which are essential for academic success. Scheduling time for exercise provides a break from mental taxation, allowing you to come back to your studies refreshed and better able to concentrate.
Aiming for 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week, as recommended by health organisations, is ideal. This could involve activities like brisk walking, jogging, cycling, swimming, dance classes, yoga, or playing sports. Joining group classes or sports teams can provide an added benefit of connecting with others and building social support.
Many universities have free or discounted access to gyms, pools, and fitness classes. Taking advantage of these resources makes it easy and affordable to make regular exercise a habit. Establishing a consistent workout routine will provide compounding mental health benefits throughout your degree.
Pairing movement with time outdoors has additional stress-reduction perks. Exercising in natural environments – like hiking, running, or cycling around campus – can boost energy while also calming the mind.
Using effective time management strategies is vital for avoiding burnout as a student. Feeling overwhelmed by everything on your plate can significantly contribute to stress. Making use of some organisational tools and tricks can help prevent this.
Using a calendar to keep track of your classes, assignments, exams and other commitments can help you feel in control. Block out regular chunks of time dedicated to studying for each module, and remember to schedule in free time for socialising, exercise and self-care.
Creating to-do lists is another useful way to stay on top of everything you need to accomplish, without holding it all in your head. Break bigger tasks down into smaller action steps. Making to-do lists for each day or week can prevent you from becoming overwhelmed. It can help to write out a brain dump before going to bed so you’re not overthinking about things you need to remember the following day when you’re trying to rest.
It's important to set boundaries around your academic work. Learning when to say "no" to additional activities and not overburdening your schedule is key. Avoid the temptation to work late into the night as this can quickly lead to burnout.
Managing stress and avoiding burnout should be a top priority for all university students. Too much stress severely impacts cognitive functions like memory and concentration that are vital to academic success. It also leads to poor sleep, sapped motivation and lack of engagement.
Learning to set boundaries and make time for self-care is important. Taking advantage of stress management strategies and cultivating resilience will allow you to have a fulfilling, successful, and enjoyable time at university. Don't underestimate the value of lowering your stress levels and protecting your mental health and wellbeing during your studies.