Can we possibly identify with students plagued by exam anxiety, students so spacey during tests that just signing one’s name, reading the first question, and circling a single multiple choice answer takes the brunt of thirty minutes? What about the study nights where students feel so overwhelmed, so anxiety-riddled, that nine hours go by without a single sentence understood, without a single word written? Studying for most anyone is taxing; studying for those with extreme anxiety can feel like losing one’s mind.
But the best question to ask is, “What tactics can help us relax and excel—at the same time—in any study program, whether for a certificate, an undergrad, or a PhD?”
Let’s explore seven possibilities for relaxing while mastering schoolwork: (1) meditation, (2) muscle flexing, (3) exercise, (4) caffeine-free beverages, (5) hot baths, (6) affirmations, and (7) journaling. As a bonus surprise, some of these tactics come with a twist.
Tip 1: Meditate.
When we meditate, we calm the mind, prepping us for either relaxation or studies, depending on the type of breaths we choose. A fast repeated exhalation is great for priming our brains for action, such as for studies. On the other hand, a four-second inhale and six-second exhale works great for calming the mind, easing exam jitters, and bolstering the thickness of our hippocampus, the brain area used in memory.
Tip 2: Flex our muscles.
When we flex and ease our muscles, we relax. Our biceps, gluteus (our bum, in common vernacular), calves, forearms, eye muscles—basically, any muscle–feels soothed when flexed and released. On top of that, a wild theory suggests muscles have memory. So, we could think of a fact while flexing a muscle, thereby storing that fact in that muscle. Soon, flexing a muscle releases not just tension, but also a fact memorized.
Tip 3: Exercise.
Exercise helps us relax. Why not connect our headphones to our cell phones, head out to a field, and do two laps around the perimeter, each lap followed by some calisthenics? Calisthenics are body weight exercises like push ups, planks, and sit-ups. But, while running the field, listen through our headphones, to videos that relate to our studies. We only stand to gain. Parks are free. So is YouTube. And aerobics, such as running, release endorphins, which are feel-good chemicals that make studies fun.
If outdoor training takes too much time, try watching educational videos indoors while briskly walking back and forth in our hallways, timing our trek for thirty minutes. It’s free and doesn’t require extra equipment. Plus, walking releases endorphins, the feel-good hormone, to pump us up for a productive day.
Tip 4: Drink water.
Water has a calming effect, while caffeine–even decaffeinated beverages–can trigger anxiety. If we drink nothing but water throughout the day, we fuel every cell with the optimal–free of cost–liquid. Fueling our brains with water calms us down for studies.
Tip 5: Have a hot bath.
We can also enjoy a hot bath while viewing a laminated sheet of important formulas or facts. We can buy a waterproof laminate coat from our local printer. It’ll help us memorize in bathtubs, stress free.
Tip 6: Use affirmations.
An affirmations app with voice recording capability primes us to relax and learn. Instead of writing just affirmations, we mix the affirmations with facts to memorize. For instance, we could have one affirmation say, “If I succeed, I’ve done well. But if I fail, I’ve opened a door to growth and opportunity. I’m not here just to have things come easy. I’m here to grow.” And then mix that affirmation with a fact to memorize, such as, “World War II began in 1939 blah blah blah.” As long as it’s a relax and learn moment, it’s a small win.
Tip 7: Journal.
And why not extend that win to our journals? Journal about how much we admire our profs, enjoy our T.A.’s, and love the knowledge we’re gaining—even if we’re kidding ourselves. Most of us already love our instructors, but sometimes friction surfaces, friction that, at times, explodes into a mess of all-out war. When we, instead, view an adversary with love, that adversary turns into a friend, even a motivator, rather than a roadblock. Journal, also, about how the struggle to excel at studies makes us finer people, more able to contribute to society, more prone to achieve our dreams. Writing with love eases the obstacles.
When we relax and learn, we grow into better students. And, for those of us with anxiety, we just might conquer exam anxiety enough to excel at school, even at a PhD level. Achieving a degree, especially a PhD, is scary when we’re overrun with anxiety, but it’s possible, and it comes most easily when we master the ability to relax and learn.