Illustration by Maxine Crump.

Illustration by Maxine Crump.

This is a question concerning studying and exams. Last term I was studying for exams, and I found myself really stressed and depressed. Sometimes while studying my brain was overwhelmed and I would feel as though there is something wrong with me, like I am dumb or something. I put a lot of pressure on myself to do well on my exams. Also while I was studying, I would try to do several topics at once because I wanted to badly get over studying. I made to-do lists and tried to improve from the last time I did my exams only to find I failed my maths, which really disappointed me. When I made these to-do lists I would get angry and blame myself for not finishing off everything on them, and this caused me to try and do everything perfectly. How do I take better care of myself while I study? How do I avoid overwhelming myself then blaming myself when I fail to complete the tasks I set? And finally, how do I deal with failure even when I’ve put so much effort into studying? —Tabby

Hi, Tabby! From here, it sounds like you’re exhibiting supreme smarts. To be actively thinking of how to improve your self-care while you are studying PLUS possessing the self-motivation to create a study routine PLUS going to school is already immensely impressive.

Even with all of this excellence, I know that exam time can be a high-pressure situation. I used to hate studying because I would create an unbearable environment for myself. I had limited breaks, snacks, and exercise—it felt like a boring obstacle course. Now something I do to take the pressure off myself is to make the process a treat. I may decide that during each goal-achieving session I’ll drink fancy sparkling water, or wear a different lip gloss color. It gets me to do the work and reminds me that I am a person with interests, not a stress bucket.

Another thing that helps is setting gentle, achievable goals. I almost never check off everything on a to-do list! It’s just too much stuff. Instead, I try to do the one or two most important things that I need to finish that day. Since it’s high-priority stuff, it ends up making a huge, positive impact on my life. Plus, I feel like a champion because I achieved what I set out to do.

You could try organizing your studying sessions this way. For example, pick one subject to study each day and target a small handful of very important things you need to work on. There are also tons of tools for time/goal management to help you cultivate a routine that leaves you feeling accomplished, and not overwhelmed. One of my favorites is Eat That Frog. (I like it because the the title makes me laugh a little. It reminds me that I can have fun getting things done. Plus, the book encourages me to face one scary thing a day, which makes me feel brave.) Remember, you are in control of your to-do list and study routine, and you can modify it to suit you better at any time.

Actively doing things is great, but it’s equally important to acknowledge what’s already been completed. Before going to bed, you could make a list of 10 things you did that day, even if they are super simple to you, like studying for 20 minutes. Doing this can give you a sense of pride, instead of dread or shame in focusing on what didn’t get done. You could even put a small sticker by each thing to pump you up. Keeping your health game strong during stressful times is also helpful. Eating healthy snacks, staying hydrated, getting regular sleep, and staying away from toxic folks can do wonders for your study stamina.

Even if you have all of this down, there’s a chance you may not reach your goal, and that is fine. No human is perfect. When this happens, I recommend blocking off time to deal with disappointment or sadness. I typically allot myself a full day after a setback to cope and not judge my feelings. I do all of my favorite sad activities like be moody in my journal, or watch Buffy, or cry if I need to. I still may have lingering sad feelings the next day, but it’s often not at the forefront of my mind because I gave myself undistracted time for grief.

This school year, try to remember that it takes brilliance to follow through with a study plan in the first place. Fine-tuning your plan to bring in more happiness and self-support will be a thing to mark off your next to-do list. —Elona

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