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5 helpful strategies to manage study-related stress

By Alaina 17 Dec 2019
Neon light: 'Breathe'

When it comes to good mental health, there isn’t a secret formula that will work for everyone. The good news, however, is that good mental health can be cultivated, and study-related anxiety can be managed through a variety of techniques and strategies.

Utilise the five strategies discussed in this blog to reduce your study-related anxiety, improve your overall wellbeing and motivation, and help you create and maintain a sense of equilibrium during stressful periods.

5 helpful strategies to manage study-related stress

1. Practise mindfulness

Mindfulness, a mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, has been proven through several recent studies to be a catalyst in changing brain function related to stress (Hözel et al., 2011; Ireland, 2014).

Similar to meditation, getting into the habit of practising mindfulness for 10–20 minutes each day can go a long way towards reducing stress, anger and feelings of anxiety. Doing this for 30 days can lead to positive changes in the brain that assist with emotion regulation and stress reduction. So, starting this habit a month before exam time (or as early as possible!), can be helpful in managing study-related anxiety.    

2. Practise positive self-talk

Did you know the human brain has around 72,000 thoughts a day and most of them are overwhelmingly negative (Sasson, n.d.)?

We all have an internal monologue, which is the way we think about ourselves, our circumstances and the world around us. How many times have you catastrophised a situation into oblivion, way more than was necessary? How many times have you obsessed over failing an assignment … and then not failed at all? We’ve all been there.

Negativity can follow us around due to self-doubt, stress and a host of other reasons. Interrupting these thoughts before they cause a loop effect is really important. If these stressful thoughts aren’t kept in check, paralysis can set in, your study gets neglected and you’ll end up feeling even more anxious about everything you have to get done.

Changing your negative internal self-talk to be more positive can go a long way in helping to manage the stress you experience related to studying. Start by being aware of what you say to and about yourself, and keep a thought journal on your phone or a small notepad. This can be an easy way to track what you say to and about yourself and your mood. Keep track of your thoughts for 24 hours to get a feel for your internal monologue, then, based on this ‘research’, you can begin to practice more self-regulation.

You don’t need to eliminate your negative thoughts. The idea is just to try and control the amount of negativity you think about yourself, gently correct negative thoughts and eventually replace them with more constructive ones.

3. Look after your overall wellbeing

Sometimes making small tweaks to the things you do every day can have the greatest positive effect on your mental health, so for better mental health that will help you manage study-related stress:

  • monitor your intake of alcohol and other substances, as these can turn from recreation to methods of escape quickly and are not healthy coping tools
  • limit use of caffeine, which obviously impacts your sleep
  • connect with others. Go for a coffee with friends, give your dog or cat a pet or call a friend or family member. Get that heart to heart connection. These activities will give you a break and reduce the stress hormones cortisol and dopamine.
  • eat brain and mood boosting foods, such as fatty fish, nuts, avocados, leafy greens and fresh fruits like blueberries, which will assist with study stress management by making you more alert and high-functioning
  • get 7–8 hours of sleep, drink water and get outside for that Vitamin D and fresh air.

4. Establish and maintain consistent routines

Leaving assignment tasks and study to the last minute is likely to make you feel overwhelmed and to reduce the chances of you getting the marks you want. To help you maintain a good pace when it comes to study, establish a consistent routine and stick to it. By keeping to your study schedule, you’re more likely to stay on track and reduce the anxiety you would feel if you left everything to the last minute.

5. Know when to seek help so you can get that extra support

Sometimes you can do everything right: you can be mindful, practise positive self-talk, look after your physical health and be organised, but the anxiety is still there. If this is how you feel, know that you’re not alone.

One in five Australians will suffer from a mental health issue at some point during their lives (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2007). When you’re in the thick of experiencing a mental health issue, you can feel lost and like it will never end, but there are many places to access support.

USQ provides free, confidential access to counselling for current students, which can be accessed online or on-campus. There are also many other mental health organisations and services you can access outside of uni, such as eheadspaceLifeline and apps like Emoodji.    

Being a university student and having to juggle study with a number of other priorities can be stressful. The key to managing study-related anxiety is learning how to practise positive self-talk, being mindful, looking after your physical health, establishing and maintaining routines, and knowing when it’s time to seek help if your stress is getting to be too much. It takes around one month to break a bad habit or to form a new habit, so try to work these strategies into your everyday life for better mental health and overall wellbeing.

For more advice on how to manage your mental health as a university student, contact USQ’s Counselling team or view the recording of Alaina’s webinar on this topic.  

Alaina McDonald

Hözel, B.K., Carmody, J., Vangel, M., Congleton, C., Yerramsetti, S.M., Gard, T., & Lazar, S.W. (2011). Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density. Psychiatry Res., 191(1): 36-43. Doi:10.1016/j.pscychresns.2010.08.006; Ireland, T., (2014). What does mindfulness meditation do to your brain? Scientific American. Retrieved from  

Sasson, R. (n.d.). How many thoughts does your mind think in one hour? Success Consciousness. Retrieved from 

Australian Bureau of Statistics (2007). National Survey of Mental Health and Well-being.