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9 tips from the student psychologist to combat study stress

Towards the end of the academic year, many students struggle with study stress. Does the pressure sometimes get too much for you, too? Student psychologist Martine Efting Dijkstra has some tips.

First of all, it is good to realise that stress in itself is not bad, says Martine. Your body mobilises a lot of energy, letting you perform extra well for a short time. That can help you, for instance during exams, but afterwards you need to recover.'

If that recovery fails, you can develop symptoms. Martine: ‘As psychologists, we divide complaints into four different categories. The first is cognitive, where you have concentration problems or you worry a lot, for instance. In addition, you may notice signs in your behaviour, for instance because you start to overwork or procrastinate a lot. You might withdraw from social contacts, while your body alerts you with headaches, sleep problems, palpitations or nausea. Finally, there is the emotional level. You might, for example, become irritable, agitated, gloomy, or restless.'

1.    Think of your energy as a scale. On one side you put the energy guzzlers, on the other side the energy providers. In times of stress, we often cut out first those things that give us energy, but that's precisely when you need to spend an evening doing your hobby. Moreover, sometimes energy givers are easier to influence than energy guzzlers.

2.    Make honest comparisons. We are used to comparing ourselves to others, but it works better to shift the focus to yourself. So, compare your achievements with those from before: How have you grown recently? What is going well? Especially during stressful periods, this is very important.

3.    Keep a positive journal. When you are stressed, you often become more negative and close yourself off a bit. Focusing on positive emotions and having a more open attitude makes it easier to deal with setbacks. By writing something down  every day that makes you happy, you train yourself in that positive attitude. Option: Set an alarm clock every day as a reminder to keep your positive journal.

4.   Plan your free time. When you are busy, you might tend to bash on, but an exam period is a marathon, not a sprint. So make sure you hang in there by planning free time too. This helps you avoid becoming overwhelmed and gives you a sense of control over your workload. Option: follow Gezonde Boel's ‘Planning and structure’ module.

5.    Use relaxation techniques. Try breathing exercises, meditation, yoga or other relaxation techniques to lower your stress levels and calm your mind. For example, download the Mindfulnest meditation app from the Apple store or the Play store and log in with your student details. You can also visit the physical Mindfulnest in the Beehive in The Hague.

6.   Take care of your body. Eat (and drink) healthily, get enough sleep and stay active. It has been shown that moderate-intensity exercise after stress (such as walking or cycling) supports the recovery process. A healthy lifestyle can help you cope better with stress and feel more energetic. Option: Follow the Gezonde Boel module: Lifestyle

7. Take breaks. Well-known Professor Erik Scherder recommends doing nothing for 20 minutes twice a day, which he calls ‘not being cognitively charged’, to activate the default mode network in your brain. In that mode, you come up with ideas faster if you are momentarily stuck in your studies, but it also helps to slow down stress signals in your brain. Doing nothing really does mean doing nothing for a while, so make sure you don't stare at a screen. Rather, look out the window or take a walk.

8. Engage with people. Don't just lock yourself in the house to study, but spend some time with friends or family as well. This has a positive effect on your stress hormones. Option: Visit  Fresh Thoughts to chat with other students or meet each other.

9.    Talk to a professional. Are you finding it hard to relax? Then talk to a study adviser or student psychologist about it, or attend one of the workshops.

Are you experiencing other things that get in the way of your well-being? If so, check out the Student Wellbeing Roadmap to see where to turn.

More tips

Follow something from the options below to tackle student stress.

E-health modules


- Conquering exam stress: lessons from our bodies

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