1. Limited time only! Sign up for a free 30min personal tutor trial with Chegg Tutors
    Dismiss Notice
Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Mitigating stress in school?

  1. Jan 31, 2013 #1
    I've noticed the only times I truly feel stressed are when I don't manage my time well and I end up somewhat backed up on coursework and have to learn and apply a lot of tough concepts in a short amount of time.

    Did anyone here go through school with lower amounts of stress (no stress would be a bad thing) through good time-management? I have a mild, semi-constant endorphin fueled approach to stress. Being able to work ahead of time seems like an excellent strategy in combating stress. I.e. instead of homework being a chore, it can become an intrinsically interesting activity due to its high level of intellectual stimulation being mixed with the fact that it's helping you move forward with your career goals.

    So, I'm not exactly buying into the idea that physics and engineering school have to be "high-stress" if you learn to sit down, pull your things out and get working right away. Of course, a few of my professors have confessed to procrastination as a student (and some still do).

    I also eat well and try to schedule in exercise and sleep. I don't really think much of free time. I think it's somewhat necessary to have some time where you give your mind a break and stimulate it with something else (particularly if it's well related to the field you go into), but not too long. I just don't see what the big deal is about going through school if you've got a good mindset and good time-management skills.

    I mean, if you REALLY couldn't sleep well at night you'd have to have 100 hours of pure productivity throughout the week, which seems like an absurd amount since 70 hours a week is considerably intense. The only time I lose sleep is when I procrastinate.

    I mean, I could see if you took 16-20 credits of technical courses at a time and had an internship/job that one might feel extreme levels of constant stress. But that seems far from a necessity (in fact, I think that would take a very high level of discipline and intelligence reserved for a smaller percentage of the people that graduate with these degrees). So, really, is there anything I'm missing?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 31, 2013 #2
    I didn't feel much stress at all during school but I was never overly concerned about grades so I didn't stress over exams, I never pulled all nighters, etc.
  4. Jan 31, 2013 #3


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    There are stressful times, of course, but for the most part I think you have the right attitude to get though with a low amount of stress.

    Academic stresses occur when you have a confluence of deadlines for example. In theory you should be able to address this through time management. But inevitably external things occur that keep you from sticking to a plan.

    There are also social stresses. Have you ever broken up with someone during exam time? Or had room mates who didn't know when to stop partying? If you can't sleep because the guy who lives next door has to blast his stereo until all hours of the night, you're not likely to have any additional hours of productivity.

    And then there are financial stresses. When you realize it's February and you only have $800 in your bank account and no source of income until the summer, assuming you land a job right away... you're likely to experience some stress.

    All of that said, there's no reason university HAS to be all that stressful. If you make good decisions, avoid too much procrastination, and plan a reasonable amount of "unplanned" time to deal with the unforseeable things, you should be just fine.
  5. Jan 31, 2013 #4
    What stresses me out through the school year isn't the studying itself, that's the best part, it's the odd feeling of dread I get when I don't understand a concept. For some reason, I'll catch myself worrying over not understanding a concept when I'm not studying. This is both the best and worst thing you can be feeling, depending on how you deal with it. It's wonderful to have the drive to want to learn and to understand when you don't know enough. However, procrastinating is the worst way to deal with it. It's very easy to stop procrastinating once you realize how ridiculous it is to put off studying, the only avenue that will make you understand the material! You just have to hammer it into your head that the reason you procrastinate is because you are scared to learn and that that is a ridiculous thing to worry about.

    Now, if the courses are taught poorly DO NOT USE THAT AS AN EXCUSE TO HATE THE MATERIAL. Nothing about science is intrinsically boring, it all depends on the prof. As such, it can be made fascinating by the right people! There are thousands of resources to use on the internet, find one that suits you. I've had to do this with my chemistry courses in first year, the prof would just flip through a slide-show... snore

    IF you still find yourself worrying about studying when you think you've been putting in the work, stop it! I've had nights where I've just thought about "What if I didn't study enough?" You have to tell yourself that if there's nothing you can do about it at that point, just stop worrying. It makes you into a real downer if you're worrying all the time!
    Last edited: Jan 31, 2013
  6. Jan 31, 2013 #5
    I can usually put a damper on my stress if I remember not to be too attached to the outcome. Sometimes (but only sometimes) it's good to remember that you won't always meet your expectations, and that's actually ok.
  7. Jan 31, 2013 #6
    The opposite happens for me. I actually start to get pissed off and I try harder. I had a ***** of a vector calc teacher who explained nothing. Me and two other people studied together. When we turned in the homework on triple integrals, we were the ONLY ones in the class who even knew what we were doing and we got the assignment done according to her. We also consistently scored as one of the highest in the class.

    I got a B in that class, 80% of the class dropped or got a D or lower, and I know because they showed the test averages, which made up most of the class. I also saw seats empty pretty early on.

    It's the classes with good teachers that I have to be weary of: I get complacent otherwise, strangely, as if doing well doesn't mean enough.

    Also, I still really enjoyed the subject.
  8. Jan 31, 2013 #7


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor

    Besides eating right/healthy, exercise is important for stress reduction, as are extracurricular activities that one enjoys.

    And their is the cognitive psych aspects about learning not to worry about things like grades. It's easier to realize than to practice.
  9. Jan 31, 2013 #8
    Well, I've got a bit of an obsession with road biking: just did 42 miles today and studied for a test. I also have been eating fish, beans and vegetables every night (and it tastes great).

    EDIT: anyone in college right now, cheap fish is Swai. Just put some pepper, salt and lemon, maybe a little olive oil.
  10. Jan 31, 2013 #9


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Other things can help, too. I used to dog-sit for a wonderful Husky whose owner lived in the next town. He was a wonderful de-stresser.
  11. Jan 31, 2013 #10
    Oddly enough, when I stressed out about tests, I would typically not score the greatest, but when I would take another test in the same class, with generally the same amount of preparation as before, yet just went into the test relaxed and thinking, "Well, I'll just get whatever I get. There's no need to worry about it now," I would score noticeably better.

    This is more specific towards test-taking, but relates to an overt obsession with getting good grades.
  12. Jan 31, 2013 #11
    Learning and applying a lot of tough concepts in a short amount of time before a test is NOT the correct approach to take. This demonstrates a serious issue in your work habits. The week before a test should mainly just be review and tightening up your understanding - never learning concepts for the first time. The approach I'm currently taking is to keep up with lectures no matter what. That is, after the professor teaches a section, I go do the homework for the section right away. It doesn't have to be all the homework problems suggested, just enough so that I can get a decent understanding. It doesn't have to be a deep understanding; as the midterm approaches, I can tighten up my understanding of the concepts that I shallowly taught myself earlier by doing hard problems leading up to the test.

    I used to be ridiculously stressed during high school. I would stay up all night sometimes out of pure procrastination. And then I stumbled upon this book: https://www.amazon.com/How-Become-Straight-Student-Unconventional/dp/0767922719

    Best $20 I've ever spent. I just can't see how I would function without this book - I would've dropped out or failed a course and had to take a low course load. He also has a blog: http://calnewport.com/blog/. Check out some of his older posts. His newer posts don't really talk about time management. Start at his about page if you're new (and explore his articles though his hyperlinks in his posts).

    Engineering is not intellectually challenging but it is the major with the heaviest workload. Ever since I've read his book, I've have ridiculously low amounts of stress compared to the past. You still have to put the time into it - no doubt, but you will feel good knowing that procrastination isn't an issue. I've never pulled an all-nighter and I never work past 6:00ish while consistently scoring above average.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  13. Feb 1, 2013 #12


    User Avatar

    That's in strong contention for the most ridiculous statement I've read all year. Engineering is frequently intellectually challenging, and if it isn't, I think that reflects poorly on the engineering program. Is it exactly the same as pure math or physics? No, absolutely not. However, to claim that it is not intellectually challenging simply because it concerns itself with such things as practicality strikes me as both absurd and arrogant to the extreme.
  14. Feb 1, 2013 #13
    Relative to pure math/physics, I should have said. It trades intellectual difficulty for heavier load. No need to sound condescending and pretentious.

    FYI, nobody cares how stupid you think a statement is.
    Last edited: Feb 1, 2013
  15. Feb 1, 2013 #14


    User Avatar

    I still would disagree with that statement (and for what it's worth, claiming pure math and physics as the gold standard of intellectual difficulty seems much more pretentious and condescending to me than anything I have said). It's a different type of intellectual challenge, certainly, but that does not mean that it is less of an intellectual challenge. Design with constraints, simulation and modeling, and other common engineering tasks can be extremely intellectually challenging and rewarding, and even if the principles are all known, the use of those principles to achieve something new, different, or better in some way is just as challenging as trying to find new basic principles.

    That having been said, of course there will be tedious, non-intellectual work to do sometimes, but that's true in any field (including pure math/physics).
  16. Feb 1, 2013 #15
    Engineering problems progress more rapidly than fundamental physical ones, but they possess a very different kind of intellectual challenge; try doing a design problem with no design experience, and you will quickly see why.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook