Student life is no stranger to stress. Starting higher education, considering career choices, chasing assignment deadlines, and coping with a packed examination schedule can be overwhelming.
To help students not worry alone, Mr Felix Cheok, an F&B industry veteran, touched on the topic of stress management in the most recent Scholarship Guide webinar, sharing tips on how to get ahead of anxiety, how to keep your mind and emotions in check when panic strikes, and how best to manage time.
Like Many Great Stories, It Begins Simply
A healthy body builds a strong foundation for the mind to cope with stress, and it begins with maintaining these simple habits in your daily lives to achieve that.
1. Get Enough Sleep
“Everything gets harder when you are sleep deprived.” Losing sleep is the quickest way to put stress on the body. So, why choose to “burn the midnight oil” or spend late nights scrolling social media feeds? Besides causing poor concentration at the next day’s morning lecture, the lack of sleep can make the body more susceptible to illnesses.
Felix’s advice to students is to try to sleep regular hours, allow the mind to calm down by putting the phone away before bedtime, take a warm bath to soothe the day’s nerves, explore meditation apps to help quieten the mind, or consider using a sleep calculator to help determine an optimal sleep schedule.
Exercise is a tough discipline to cultivate, and it is easy to want to skip an occasional workout session or two when one gets busy. “Exercising does not necessarily mean visiting the gym,” urged Felix, who believes that motivated individuals will always find alternative locations and creative ways to clock their workout.
Felix encouraged students to seek out social sports, such as joining an activity club or participating in team sports, because combining social life with exercise is a great source of motivation. “Try new things and have fun! Having different activities to look forward to each week can help you better cope with the grind ahead.”
3. Eat Healthily
Feed your body with the nutrition it needs. Experts recommend filling half the plate with vegetables and the other half with protein and carbohydrates—for a balanced diet. A healthy diet does not need to be expensive. Going to the doctor when the poorly nourished body succumbs to seasonal illnesses pays a heftier price.
Felix added that a good diet allows one to maintain a healthy weight. “When clothes fit you well, there is no additional stress in having to agonise over your physical appearance and the need to lose weight to look good.”
4. Organise Your Space
A neat workspace can help you better concentrate. It also allows you to find what you need without much stressful hunting. An unorganised workspace serves as a distraction and can imply that there is more to do than it seems. If the mess is not within your control, consider moving to a different workspace, such as the library.
But I’m Already Feeling Stressed! What Do I Do?
We cannot eliminate stress, and we should never deny it. Learn how to deal with it when it comes.
Exercising can help unleash negative energies in the body and return it to a state of balance. When you start to feel overwhelmed, try going for a short walk, run, or doing any form of workout to reboot and recharge.
Felix elaborated on the practice of mindfulness techniques, akin to the concept of taking care of oneself, as a helpful tool to manage stress. “Meditate, perform deep breathing with relaxing background music, and practise positive thinking and affirmation to help you access the feeling of calm.”
He also suggested embarking on a guided visualisation exercise to help one mentally prepare for a potentially stressful situation. “Visualise yourself in a positive future scenario, such as doing well for your examinations or making a successful presentation. This can help you channel your energies away from negativity. But please make sure that you put in the hard work as well… Visualising success without the effort will not make it happen.”
Managing time is like juggling, as we learn how to keep as many balls as possible in the air at one time. It is a skill to master, yet it is a process that needs to be constantly monitored, adjusted, and optimised. Whilst some are better than others in managing time, there are multiple techniques for everyone to explore. For example:
Plan your schedule. Be in control of your time because last-minute work can elevate stress levels. Plan out your week with a notebook, an academic diary with time blocks, or an online or mobile calendar. Using a calendar of some sort for project scheduling is commonplace in the working world. So, get used to planning with one now. Do not forget to include the time needed for your exercise, chores, and errands in your schedule.
Felix also suggested practising multitasking. “You can listen to a podcast, catch up on your text messages, or sort out bill payments when in transit on public transport, and why not watch a lecture recording when running on a treadmill? Be flexible with your schedule. Just ensure that you do not compromise a deadline.”
Work with your circadian rhythm—also known as your body’s internal clock. Are you an early bird or a night owl? What are the hours that you are the most productive? Establish when you concentrate best and when your energy levels are at the highest, then make the most of your time within those hours of the day.
Take enough breaks. Taking short breaks can help us maintain alertness. Felix shared that a 25-minute work cycle with a 5-minute interval break works best for him. Determine your own cycle and stick with it. Set a timer to help remind you to take a break. However, he highlighted that the best use of break time is to get the body moving, such as walking around or getting up to stretch, not staying seated and scrolling through mobile feeds.
Bust procrastination by doing “just five minutes”. We tend to ignore tasks until the deadlines become imminent. Overcome procrastination by making a deal with yourself—to spend just five minutes on that “dreaded” piece of work. Whilst you are at it, be sure to remove all distractions. Often, after five minutes, you will find yourself fully absorbed in the task and want to continue with it.
Focus on one piece of work at a time. Write a to-do list, then break down the tasks into smaller tasks and work on the easiest ones first. When working on each task, practice mindfulness and deeply focus on it—self-care tasks included. Do not let the mind wander. In that way, you are likely to be more productive.
Cultivate good habits. Quoting Aristotle, an ancient Greek philosopher, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” Felix urged the practice of good habits, such as removing all distractions when you need to focus, taking mental breaks, organising your notes, promptly catching up on missed lectures, etc.
Ask For Help
Felix served his final piece of advice to students: Do not be afraid to ask for help. “There is no shame in admitting that you feel overwhelmed.”
If you experience anxiety that you feel you cannot overcome, contact your school’s counselling services, reach out to your lecturer or teacher, speak with family members and friends, or seek professional help. There will always be resources to help you get out of that stressful and anxious mental state. Just raise your hand and voice it out. Discuss your burdens with others and be willing to resolve disputes.
“Starting higher education is a fantastic time for many, but not without significant challenges.”
Summarising his stress management tips for students, he added a few more in the closing of his presentation and in the Q&A that followed.
• Journal your to-do list before you go to bed and get them out of your mind.
• Simplify your life and set achievable goals.
• Do not worry about things that cannot be controlled.
• Mingle with positive people.
• Everyone has the same number of hours in a day; no one has more or less. As such, prioritising is key to time management.
• It is fine to slack off during the holidays. But when school starts, it is time to exercise discipline.
• In tackling exam stress, there are times when the more you try to study, the more you cannot concentrate, and you get frustrated. It is like burning the candle at both ends. Take a break.
• Peer supporters are important to me. Whenever I am in distress, I reach out to my peers, whom I have known for over 40 years, and spill it all out to them. Get yourself good friends!
Listen in on another Scholarship Guide webinar session, as Felix puts into perspective the total amount of time an average person spends working before retirement (80,000 Working Hours & 40 Years) to emphasise the importance of career decision-making.