● by Mel Sim
With deadlines looming and tonnes of reading to catch up on (not to mention trying to have a life of your own!), your postgraduate studies can truly be one of your more stressful period in life. Find out how you can manage the postgraduate stress before it consumes you.
You’ve put in hours of research, thinking and writing. You’re trying your best to catch up on assignments, readings and group meetings. What may seem like a long time more to go is now slowly catching up on you – and you’re still nowhere near completing your thesis! The natural reaction is to get stressed. Which is not exactly a bad thing because stress can be a great motivator if you need that extra push. But if it starts affecting the rest of your life, then it is time to get a grip on it before stress overwhelms and consumes you. We all know the consequences of not handling stress effectively – fatigue, lack of concentration, feeling of hopelessness, and the list goes on. So here are five tips on how you can deal with postgraduate stress before it gets to you.
The one reason you could be stressed? Poor organisation and bad time management. Not keeping track on the things you need to do or how long you should take to complete something will naturally put you in a panic mode when you start to realise time’s up and you’ve not done anything at all. So first things first – get a grip on your priorities. Plan accordingly – know what you have to do, estimate how long it will take, know how long you have to do it in – and plan out a schedule or a timetable so that you can be on top of things. A million and one things to do? Make a list! Having something in black and white helps you see things clearer and keeps you focused on the task at hand.
One thing to remember: You have to be realistic. Don’t take on too much than what you can actually cope with. If even setting a task list can’t keep you focused on what you need to do, then perhaps it is because you really have too much on your plate! If that is the case, speak to your professor or supervisor to see if you can work something out.
Who has time for rest and relaxation when there are 101 things to do? You – that’s who. Set some time – even an hour during the weekend – to unwind and relax. Do something you enjoy – reading a book, listening to music, getting a spa treatment – anything at all to take your mind off your studies for a while. This helps to clear your head and calm those nerves so that you can re-evaluate and focus your attention on what you need to do.
There is some truth in the saying, “You are what you eat”. When stressed, we are more likely to reach out to salty, sugary and fatty food – basically junk that will throw your body into a bigger havoc when combined with stressed. You’re inclined to snack especially when faced with mentally draining coursework. Why not snack smartly then? Opt for fruits, vegetables, nuts, natural food instead of processed food. Sip on green tea or a glass of water with a squeeze of lemon instead of coffee whenever you need a boost-me-up. Also, load up on fish – oily fish is high in essential fatty acids like omega-6, which will boost your brain’s productivity.
"A support system not only takes your mind of your nagging worries but also helps you overcome difficult times."
We know – you barely have time for anything and now you need to factor in exercise as well? Trust us when we say it will do you good, especially when your stress level is looming to skyrocket! With regular exercise, your body pumps blood, which makes you alert and helps you stay focused. Exercise also releases those feel-good endorphins and improves your sleep, which is often disrupted by stress. More importantly, it is a good distraction from your worries as you focus on your body’s movement. The result? A more energetic you who is also calm and clear in everything you do.
No man is an island – so you really shouldn’t have to trudge through your postgraduate studies alone and miserable! Seek out coursemates who completely understand what you are going through – be supportive of each other and be there for one another. While it’s tempting to completely throw yourself into your studies (especially when exams are around the corner), you shouldn’t neglect your social life. Having friendship and social interaction is important when it comes to dealing with stress – a support system not only takes your mind of your nagging worries but also helps you overcome difficult times. So make sure to take some time off to either get together with a friend or make time for dinner with your family.
Stress is common among postgraduates. What’s not common is when this stressful feeling starts taking over your life. Here are some symptoms of serious stress to look out for.
• Difficulty sleeping or difficult waking up in the morning
• Constantly feeling tired or worn out
• Unexplained aches and pains, especially around the neck, shoulder and back area
• Loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy
• Poor appetite
• Increased anxiety and irritability
• Migraines and headaches
• Blurred vision
• Feeling of hopelessness
If you answered yes to any of this, please speak to a medical professional immediately.
Breathe Deeply Sit up straight, eyes closed, with a hand on your belly. Slowly inhale through your nose, feeling the breath start in your abdomen and work its way to the top of your head. Reverse the process as you exhale through your mouth.
Go Classical Take a break and listen to relaxing classical music. It has been proven to have a positive effect on your brain and body, and can reduce cortisol, a hormone linked to stress.
Take a Whiff Lavender, peppermint, rose, eucalyptus – these aromatherapy oils have been proven to bring your stress level down. Place a few pieces of rock salt in a small vial and add a few drops of the oil of your choice (rock salt absorbs the oil better and is easier to carry around). Open the vial and take a deep breathe whenever you need a quick stress release.
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