How do we balance the challenges of studying and staying emotionally healthy, when we are experiencing stress and mental ill health? And how do we make sure that we can concentrate to study, manage our time and avoid the pitfalls of perfectionism?
Readers who follow Suffolk Mind’s Student Life column will know that good mental health depends upon having our emotional needs met in balanced healthy ways. Our emotional needs include: the need to feel safe and secure; to feel that we have a say over the direction of our lives; to give and receive attention; that we are valued by others and feel part of the wider community; that we have privacy and time to reflect; that we share an emotional connection with others; and that we are stretched and challenged in ways which give us a sense of meaning and purpose. So the first thing to check is how well your needs are met and what can you do to improve them.
Concentration requires the ability to give quality attention and having a certain amount of privacy. That means we need to have enough attention capacity to focus, free from other demands. The better your emotional needs are met the less there’ll be to worry about and you’ll have fewer distractions.
One of the biggest challenges of our times is the demand on our attention of social media, advertising and online sites like Netflix; all of which are designed to cut into our private time, distract us and focus our attention on advertising.
Because we only have a certain amount of attention available to us each day, it’s really important to use it wisely. If you are studying, limiting yourself to using social media at certain times of the day can reduce the likelihood of being drawn into threads or advertorials which aren’t relevant to your studies.
If you’re concerned about your internet usage, perhaps keep a tally of how often you check sites a day, how often you feel the impulse to look at your phone and how often you resist temptation – this kind of practice can help to bring habits under conscious control.
A barrier to managing time effectively is having unrealistic expectations and trying to do too much; so try doing the exact opposite. Give yourself a task which is easy to do in a short space of time and give yourself half a day to work on it. When you finish it you’ll feel the rewards of satisfaction which will give you the motivation to do the next task. Break up your big tasks with small satisfying ones to maintain motivation.
What about perfectionism? Perfectionism is a form of black-and-white thinking which can take over when we are faced with stress or challenging situations. While it can be helpful to aspire to be perfect, it’s important to remind ourselves that nothing is ever perfect, we’re always growing, and that perfectionism is an illusion which gets in the way of learning and getting better.
If perfectionism gets in the way of finishing work on time, ask yourself, ‘is it good enough?’ ‘Does is do what it is supposed to do?’ ‘Can I put the finishing touches too it once I have the basics in place?’ The answer is likely to be yes.
Very often perfectionism arises in people when they have been judged harshly at an earlier point in their lives. In other words their need to feel valued and respected was unmet, and they then feel that they have to meet somebody else’s ridiculous standards, even when the person is not going to be marking their essays or exams! This can really take the fun out of enjoying a challenge, which is what studying should be about.
If this sounds like it might be the case for you, it can help to remind yourself that the younger you was not responsible for other people being judgmental; perhaps, imagine yourself explaining to the younger you that other people’s opinions don’t matter; what’s good enough is good enough.
For more information about mental health and wellbeing visit suffolkmind.org.uk or call 0300 111 6000.