Or what to do if you feel you are struggling with a subject or keeping up with everything.
Being a student in Year 11 or Year 13 can feel at times like being the plate spinner act at the circus, trying to do everything all at once. It can be exhausting, and at some point this during this year you will feel stressed, overwhelmed, and struggling to keep up with everything.
The good news is you are not alone! Everyone goes through this experience at some point in their lives, and more importantly, we can make a plan to manage our stress or anxiety to ensure it does not take over our lives. Our expert tutor, Gareth, explains:
Evolution of Anxiety
In his excellent article “The Evolution of Anxiety”, James Clear asks you to pretend for a moment that you are a giraffe. You live on the grasslands of the African savannah. You have a neck that is 7 feet long. Every now and then, you spot a group of humans driving around on a safari taking pictures of you.
As a giraffe, every decision you make provides an immediate benefit to your life.
- When you are hungry, you walk over and munch on a tree
- When you spot a lion stalking you and your friends, you run away.
On any given day, most of your choices as a giraffe – eating, running away – make an immediate impact on your life. You are constantly focused on the present or the very near future. You live in what scientists call an immediate-return environment because your actions instantly deliver clear and immediate outcomes.
Unlike the giraffe, humans live in a delayed-return environment. This means that most of the choices you make today will not benefit you immediately.
• If you do a good job at work today, you’ll get paid at the end of the month.
• If you revise a topic now, you will be better prepared for your Summer exams.
Unfortunately, living in a delayed return environment tends to lead to chronic stress and anxiety for humans – this is because the human brain did not evolve for life in a delayed-return environment.
Thousands of years ago, environment stress and anxiety were useful emotions because they helped us take action in the face of immediate problems.
- A lion appears across the plain > you feel stressed > you run away > your stress is relieved
- You haven’t drunk any water today > you feel stressed and dehydrated > you find water > your stress is relieved.
How to solve the issue
Today students face different problems that can rarely be solved in the present:
• Will I know how to answer the questions in my exams?
• Will my subjects at GCSE or A Level help me get a job?
One of the greatest causes of stress and anxiety in a delayed-return environment is the constant uncertainty.
So what steps can you take to ensure that you thrive in this environment?
The first thing you can do is to measure something.
When we measure something, we immediately become more certain about the situation.
Two really effective measurement strategies to help you when you are feeling stressed, or like you are struggling to keep up are:
• Create a Worry Tree
• Using the Seinfeld Strategy
On a post-it, write one thing that is causing you to feel stressed or anxious.
Be as specific as possible – don’t write “Everything” or “Life” or “Maths” as these are all far too big. Break down everything causing you stress into its smallest possible component – instead of writing Maths, write ‘algebraic equations’.
Once you have written down everything on your Post-It Notes read, through them again and ask yourself two very simple questions:
- Can I change this myself?
- Do I know someone who can help me with this?
If the answer to either of these questions is yes, stick the Post-It Note on your Worry Tree.
If the answer is no, throw the Post-It Note in the bin as we don’t want to use up any emotional energy on things that we cannot control or change.
Your task every morning is to wake up, look at your Worry Tree, choose one Post-It note and ensure that by the end of the day, you have managed to deal with that one specific thing that was causing you stress
One problem at a time, one day at a time.
You will feel an immense sense of relief and satisfaction coming home and removing one Post-It Note and watch the leaves of your Worry Tree dwindle one by one.
- Use a big wall calendar – one that has a whole year on a page.
- Get a big colourful pen.
- For each day you complete a task, put a big X over that day e.g. could be one of your Post-It Notes from your Worry Tree, or it might be revising for a topic.
After a few days, you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job is to not break the chain.
Not a single thing about results. All that mattered was not breaking the chain, and in that way you can trick your brain into moving from thinking it is in a delayed-return environment into thinking it is an immediate-return environment.
The key to dealing with stress
The key to dealing with stress, anxiety and that feeling that you are struggling to keep on top of things is to break down all of the causes into their smallest possible component and dealing with them one by one, day by day, week by week, month by month.
Life is unpredictable, and you will break your chain, and on more than one occasion.
The challenge then is to restart and see if you can beat your previous chain.
Give it a try, I promise you it will work for you and do wonders for your mental health and wellbeing.