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ROAR! And Other Stress Relievers

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It’s late at night. Your essay deadline is the following morning. You’ve consumed so much coffee it’s given you the shakes, and despite staring intensely at your computer screen for the past two hours, you’ve still only got three paragraphs. Which you suspect are not very good.

Say hello to the essay crisis.

We’ve blogged before about surviving exams, but actually they’re not the only part of university life that can cause stress (just what you want to hear, I know). Most subjects require you to write at least the occasional essay, and if you’re taking a humanities subject you may have to submit up to two essays per week.

You’ll probably figure out your own ways of coping with essay-related stress, and indeed many people find they thrive under the pressure. But, for those times when you’re feeling really stuck/ panicky/ desperate, it’s worth having some stress relievers to fall back on. Here are some that work for me…

1. Set yourself clear targets.

An example of some stress relievers is to complete the next two parts of your essay plan (see below), then take a five minute break. This should be away from the computer screen, otherwise it’s not really a proper break - for your eyes, body or mind. So instead of checking Facebook, how about doing some stretches, putting on a favorite piece of music and dancing around, or even doing a bit of tidying. (These are all activities for when you’re in your own room; if you’re at the library, I’d suggest going outside!)

2. Work in timed chunks.

This is similar to the above, but with breaks at set times, rather than on the completion of goals. For example, you could work for 20 minutes, then take 10 minutes off. This may or may not work for you, but if it does, there are lots of customisable timer programs you can download onto your computer or smartphone to help you keep strict time.

3. Plan, plan, plan.

Teachers will repeatedly tell you how important it is to plan your essays, and I can confirm that for me at least, it really helps. Spending time on the planning should make the actual essay-writing a LOT less stressful. How you actually do the plan is a matter of personal preference; it may take a while to figure out what works best for you. You might start with a mind-map, to get all your main ideas down, then group ideas into sections and start fleshing out the details. Or you could start with the conclusion – once you know where you’re going, it’s easier to write your way there! Planning techniques may also vary depending on your subject; different fields will have different conventions to which essays should adhere.

4. Use talking as a stress reliever.

Just a few minutes of conversation (preferably face-to-face) can be a tremendous stress reliever leaving you feeling more relaxed, happier, and ready to get going again. If you’re living on campus, one advantage is that you can usually drop in on a friend nearby, or find some people gathered in a communal area. If it’s not possible to speak to someone you know, even an exchange with a stranger can have a positive impact. I’m not suggesting you just strike up a conversation on the street (especially if it’s the middle of the night), but you could perhaps pop into a cafe, or share a few words with the librarian.

And remind yourself to smile! It really helps!

5. Go for a walk.

If you’ve been staring at your computer screen for more than a few minutes, get up. Sometimes just crossing the room can shake a thought loose, other times it’s worth taking a 10-minute stroll around your building. You’ll find your brain continues working on the problem without you even realizing.

6. Do some exercise.

If you’re really struggling, could you take some time out to do some cardio exercise? Go for a jog, do a workout DVD, whatever works for you – just as long as you boost your heart rate and release some endorphins.It’ll really shake off that kind of sluggish despair that only an essay crisis can induce, and hopefully get rid of any mental blockages.

And finally two strategies that are a little less orthodox – and again, not for the library!

  • Throw a book. This was recommended to me by a course-mate during a particularly pressured part of my master’s degree.
  • Roar. Yep, like a lion. Do the loudest roar you can – it's a really great stress reliever, trust me!

How do you get rid of stress? If you’ve got any tried-and-tested stress relievers, do let me know – you definitely don’t stop needing them after you graduate!

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Written by Laura Bridgestock
The former editor of TopUniversities.com, Laura oversaw the site's editorial content and student forums. She also edited the QS Top Grad School Guide and contributed to market research reports, including 'How Do Students Use Rankings?'

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