If you’re a college student with upcoming exam(s) to take, a working professional with new topics and information to constantly research, or a person that has something to study for in general, then you know full well that studying can get downright frustrating, tiring and stressful. Not to mention it’s probably not what’d you rather be doing, especially if you have other things to juggle in your daily life. While studying is not the most fun, there’s a lot you can do to boost your concentration, lower your stress levels, sleep better and find a method of studying/researching/test taking that works best for you.
Chances are, if you’re stressed about studying (or anything in life! Let’s face it our nation is) then you’re probably not sleeping well either. Unfortunately, these things seem to go hand in hand. Fortunately, once you start making healthful changes to fix one, then the others will start to get better too as if by magic! It’s a vicious cycle that repeats if you don’t try to alleviate it and help to care for and heal yourself – study… commence stress… lack of sleep/restless sleep… day time grogginess… leads to more stress/aggravation… disrupted sleep… you get my point.
As a student myself, it took a lot of trial and error to figure out what studying methods and preparations worked best for me, what stress relievers helped, and what I could do to ensure a restful night of sleep. Anything to keep me feeling my best physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Having a million things to do on top of studying can get pretty draining! Downing Red Bull’s, coffee, and eating processed foods and sugar to keep you up all night to study may seem like a good idea at the time to some. It may even trick you in to thinking it works, but it will only leave you with a sugar or caffeine rush and more cravings for junk. Then the sugar crash will hit and you’ll find it harder to concentrate.
There are better ways to help that will keep you feeling good before, during and after your big test/project/research begins, but please keep in mind that this also applies to stress and difficulty sleeping in general. Below are some of my favorite tips and tricks to help with all 3 S’s – studying, sleeping better, and stress. I find that most of them could be used interchangeably to treat one another also because as I said before they all seem to go hand in hand – fix one and the rest will follow!
FOR A SUCCESSFUL STUDY SESSION…
*Classical Music – If you’re not the kind of person that can study in silence and prefers some noise, put the TV distraction to the side and opt for classical music instead. The harmonious melodies help to ease your brainwaves into relaxed “alpha” state. To ease a racing mind listen to softer melodies and if you’re looking for a pick me up right before your test, choose pieces with a little more energy. Either way, listening to this music helps your brain to retain information because it keeps you relaxed yet aware. Some suggestions: Debussy, Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Vivaldi, Wagner – just to name a few of my favorites! You can find samples on YouTube and discover what you like. I’ve got tons and this doesn’t even touch the surface on how many other great composers there are. Here’s an example of one of my favorites – Relaxing Tchaikovsky
*Rosemary – Whether a fresh sprig of rosemary or rosemary essential oil, the scent of rosemary has been found to boost memory and concentration. Your olfactory nerve is closely linked with memory so smelling something like rosemary can trigger what you’ve worked hard to try and store in your brain! This is especially helpful if you often find that while taking a test you suddenly draw blanks or get stuck on a question trying to recall what the answer is, or that acronym you taught yourself to try and remember something that suddenly slipped your mind. Using a carrier oil, dab some on your wrists, keep a fresh sprig on your desk to sniff once in awhile, or add fresh rosemary to your water (add lemon if it’s too harsh for you).
*Silence Your Phone – With today’s never ending obsession with social media and texting it’s very easy to lose concentration if your phone is going off every few minutes with notifications and messages. Having access to social media at your fingertips can also be very distracting. Designate and set aside a time for your studying/researching and make a decision to silence your phone or put it on “do not disturb.” If you’re worried that something may happen and will need to be notified, let your family/friends/spouse/coworkers know ahead of time that you will be silencing your phone and that if something is emergent they may call (there are certain settings that allow for ringing after a certain amount of calls). Your loved ones and workmates should understand that you need to dedicate this time to yourself, and if they care for you then they will. There will be a time and a place to go back to check all of those messages and e-mails and catch up on social media.
*Stretch Breaks – Holing up to study/research (or even working daily at your desk) could mean staying in the same crouched position for long periods of time. Often times, we don’t realize while sitting that our posture starts to slack and before you know it you’re hunched over the computer. To break up your studying session, or your daily work routine, get up every so often and have a good stretch. Your muscles will thank you later. It will also help you to rejuvenate a little bit in situations where your mind starts to wander or you feel like the information you’re looking over is going right through you and not being retained. That’s a sign for needing a little break. Stretch, breath, bring yourself back into focus.
*Chocolate – YES, I did say that loading up on processed sugars and junk food are not good tools for studying. However, a small piece of dark chocolate (cacao, not sugar!) about the size of your thumb can help boost concentration and keep you mentally alert due to its small amount of caffeine and magnesium content. Both keep you mentally alert and get the endorphins released to keep you happy – and who isn’t happy eating chocolate? Opt for an organic bar to ensure it’s pure and free of additives. Snack on a piece no more than an hour before your test. By the time it hits your system you’ll be ready to go. These are some of my favorites – Green & Black’s Dark Chocolate . If you’re not a chocolate person you can always opt for…
*Green Tea – Same concept as chocolate! It’s low caffeine content gives it just enough to boost your brain at a time when you need to be mentally sharp. L’theanine is a component (amino acid) found in green tea that helps to induce relaxation without leaving you feeling lethargic or groggy. This is why when you drink green tea you don’t get the energy crash you get when you drink coffee. Bonus: Green Tea is considered an antioxidant that also helps to fight cell damage. Drink up!
*Meditate – If you’re getting antsy and finding it hard to focus then I suggest meditating as a way of helping to clear your mind and recenter yourself. Sometimes studying can be hard if you have other things on your mind and meditating can help you learn to focus on the present. You don’t need to go into a half an hour binge (but if you want to go ahead). A quick 5 to 10 minute meditation can help you to feel refreshed and level headed. A good tip would be to take a deep breath in counting to four, pause and hold the breath counting to four, and then breathe out counting to four. Do this a few times and add in your favorite meditation – I like this one The Honest Guys – 10 Minute Time Out for Exam Revision for a quick pick me up – or find others on YouTube or through an app.
*Clear Quartz – This crystal is my go-to for test taking! Think “crystal clear.” Connecting with your crown chakra and therefore anything related to your brain and nervous system, this crystal is excellent to aide in focus and concentration and brings mental clarity when needed. Carry it close in your pocket or keep it on your desk. If you have a piece of jewelry containing clear quartz then that would work as well.
*Ashwagandha – This herbal supplement is a staple in my household. Ashwagandha is an adaptogenic herb which means that it helps your body’s natural response to stress (fight or flight) and boosts the ability to be able to effectively cope. This herb can work in two ways; if you’re feeling run down, low on energy and burnt out from stress it can help to boost your endurance and strengthen immunity. If you’re feeling high strung, anxious and overwhelmed from doing too many things at once it can help to relax your system while maintaining your drive. Other adaptogenic herbs include: Asian Ginseng, Rhodiola Rosea, Astragalus Root, and Eleuthero. If you have medical concerns or conditions, consult your medical physician first before beginning any supplements to be on the safe side. My favorite brand is this one – Oregon’s Wild Harvest – Organic Ashwagandha
***General test taking tips: READ CAREFULLY! If there’s anything I’ve learned in my long student life it’s that there are some tricky questions out there and it’s usually the silly ones you get wrong. Typically, I like to read through the test and first answer all of the questions that I definitely know the answers to, leaving the ones blank that I’m not sure of. Once I do a run through of the whole test, I start back at the beginning and start going over the questions I didn’t answer. Look for clues in the question and other questions, and cross out which answers you know are definitely not right, answering the ones you can and once again skipping over the ones you still aren’t sure of. For the third and final time, look back over the questions that you aren’t sure of and make the best guess you can. Most importantly, take your time!
FOR STRESS RELIEF AND A GOOD NIGHT’S SLEEP…
*Heat Therapy – My electric heat wrap and aromatherapy neck wrap were probably two of the best gifts I’ve gotten – I’ve had them for a few years now. When your muscles are feeling sore and achy (especially at the end of a long day) then either of these products would be a good addition to your self care repertoire. You can find them online – Electric Heat Wraps & Neck Wraps, or at a local pharmacy. You can use them at anytime of the day, but my favorite time to use it is at night while laying in bed. Turn it on when you first get into bed and are starting to unwind and then off before you fall asleep if you don’t want to leave it on. You could also buy one with a timer if you’re concerned you’ll forget to turn it off. The heat helps to relax sore muscles and induce relaxation. Neck wraps are similar except most (like the one I have) require heating in the microwave for 30 second intervals (up to 2 minutes) rather than using electric. Heat therapy has been shown to be more effective than cold therapy at treating muscle ache/soreness. Cold constricts and can create more pain whereas heat can dilate and allow for more blood flow.
*Get Adequate Sleep – Sounds silly to say get adequate sleep under tips for sleeping well but there is a difference between sleep and adequate sleep. We function at our best with adequate sleep, which means getting at least 7-9 hours each night and typically rising and retiring at the same times each day. Yet the stress we experience daily and our hectic schedules prevent this from happening a lot of the time. Make a conscious effort to try and go to bed and wake up at the same times each day. Make a list of the things you need to accomplish before or after work and then stick to it. If there’s things that can wait until the next day then do that. Set a time for yourself that is your cut off from doing everything (i.e. at 8 pm I am going to put everything away and start winding down). Chores will always be there, make sleep a priority. We need to recharge our batteries to be able to keep doing the things we need to daily. The more you try and push through things and put sleep on the back burner, the more likely you will be to burn out.
*Lights Out – Our tech-obsessed society has a hard time putting away electronics in order to get restful sleep. Studies show that the light given off by televisions, cell phones or other electronic devices send signals to our brains to prevent us from feeling tired. Our bodies natural biorhythms should be tired during the night and awake during the day – hence our ancestors used to rise with the sun and retire at dusk. Before you reach for the cell phone or leave the television on all night to fall asleep, consider turning off or putting away all electronics at least 2 hours before you plan to go to sleep. This will help your body fall into it’s natural circadian rhythm. Do not leave them close to your head or under your pillow as this disrupts your sleep also.
*Chamomile Tea – Chamomile tea is a great herb to help reduce anxiety, stress and induce relaxation. It’s naturally caffeine free which makes it a great tea choice before bed. Make drinking tea a night time ritual by curling up with a warm blanket and holding the warm cup in your hands. Check out my page on chamomile and all of it’s other health benefits here! December 2017 – Chamomile
*Diffuse Essential Oils – I have a small essential oil diffuser next to my bed and I love it! I fill it up and turn it on right before I get into bed and it usually diffuses throughout the whole night. I noticed that when I do this I have an easier time falling asleep, and staying asleep through the night with little to no disruption. Diffusing relaxing scents like lavender or chamomile can make for restful sleep. Of course if you aren’t feeling well some nights, you can also incorporate oils like eucalyptus or clove to help breathe easy at night too. If you’re looking for stress relief, again lavender or chamomile are good choices. If you’re feeling particularly run down or lackluster then use more uplifting and citrus scents like lemon, grapefruit, or tangerine. Make sure that the oils you’re diffusing are 100% pure essential oils and do not contain synthetic fragrances or chemicals.
*Don’t Eat Before Bed – This is a big one! Many people will argue that it doesn’t matter what time of day you eat so long as it’s well balanced. However, your body needs time at night to power down. If you eat right before you go to sleep, then you are giving your body substances that it needs to utilize energy to break down. You also might experience more heartburn due to stomach acid coming up while you’re laying down because your stomach isn’t properly digesting food. Your body’s internal body clock uses night time as a time of restoration and recharging where during the day is a time of work. For example, from 7 am to 9 am the stomach is functioning at its peak. This makes it an ideal time to eat a hearty meal (like breakfast) and get the most out of its functioning. At 9 pm your body begins the process of regulating temperature, metabolism and energy to prepare you for sleep. You should forgo eating from this point on (even better if you stop eating at least 2 hours prior to this). It then goes on from 11 pm to 3 am (times of the Gall Bladder and Liver respectively) to detox and cleanse your system. It’s vital to try and eat at regular times during the day so that your body can perform its designated tasks at night. Eating late at night also packs on more pounds and can lead to feeling bloated in the morning – another reason to ditch eating right before bed!
*Meditate – Meditating is good for anything! As stated above for studying, meditating can help you to recenter and focus on the present. This is especially important if you’re stressed, run down, and feel like there are a thousand things going on inside of your head. You may feel like you aren’t thinking clearly or at the end of your rope. Take time out to make a meditation ritual for yourself whether it’s in the morning, after work, or before bed. Check on my page Rituals, Altars and Sacred Spaces for tips on how to set up your own sacred space and ideas for meditation.
*Water Therapy – When the “fire” feels like it’s blazing inside of us from stress, anger and emotions then water is a good way to put out that fire. A warm bath using essential oils, Epsom salts or whatever else you prefer, and lit by candlelight is one of the most decadent and luxurious (and cheap) ways to relax. Make it a ritual – play relaxing music, read a book, have a glass of wine or tea, literally soak up the moment. That quiet time will do wonders for your mental health and the warm water will soothe aching muscles. It’s also very good for women in easing the stress of infertility, or the tension and pressure of trying to get pregnant. If you don’t have access to a bathtub (my current situation) then you can make shower time a special ritual also by using shower bath bombs or splurging on a handmade soap or deep conditioner. Imagine the warm water washing away all of your worries and leaving you feeling refreshed and relaxed. If the idea of taking a bath or shower at the end of the night doesn’t appeal to you then you can also invest in a small foot bath. Fill it up with lavender or other scented Epsom salts and let the mini Jacuzzi do its work to relax you. In Chinese medicine, there are a number of acupuncture points on your feet and ankles that have functions of helping with stress relief. Soaking your feet in a warm foot bath can also help induce that relaxation since it triggers all of those points.
*Keep a Glass of Water Next to Your Bed – In this case, not for drinking. I once read this Feng Shui tip that if you’re having a lot of nightmares, restless sleep or agitated thoughts during sleep time, keep a full glass of water next to your bed. The glass of water will absorb all of the negative energy taking it away from you. In the morning, pour the glass of water down the drain – don’t drink it, as you will be taking in the Qi (i.e. energy, life force, etc.) of that glass of water. The goal is to get rid of it so that it no longer controls you. It might sound a little hoaky but I have to say I’ve tried it before and oddly enough, it works!
*Crystals Under Pillow – Amethyst is a great crystal to leave under your pillow or on your night table to promote a good nights sleep. For extra benefit, rub some lavender essential oil on it and a little on your pillow case.
*Reading – If you stick to the no lights policy but find that you’re still having a tough time falling asleep, then keep books on your night table with a little book light.I like to keep books on my night table that are spiritual, uplifting and positive usually containing small chapters or quotes and also there’s usually a novel thrown in there somewhere. Each night, or every few nights I like to read one small chapter or quote in it. This allows you to connect with something positive before bed time and think about what it could mean for you in the day or days ahead. It’s also spiritually uplifting if you’re feeling stressed and it gives you something to connect with and give you hope that all will be alright. I’ve always found that reading before bed helped to put me to sleep over the years. It beats turning the television on and absorbing all of the energy from it.
There are a number of different things you can do to improve your studying skills and alleviate symptoms of stress and make for a better nights sleep. This list is definitely not exhaustive of all of the different things you can do. These are just tools and mechanisms that have worked for me throughout the years with trial and error that I wanted to share. And of course, it’s a never ending adventure for me also on finding different things to help. For now, a great way to start may be to implement any of the things above. This could open doors for so much more. I would love to hear about your favorite study/stress/sleep tips also!