Taking care of your academic wellbeing will help you achieve in your studies. Have a look at some common academic wellbeing concerns you may encounter, and some tips on how to work through them.
Performance anxiety is a person’s inability to perform under pressure due to a fear of failing. A person can experience performance anxiety in different situations such as exams, presentations, speeches, or sporting events. As with other forms of anxiety, learning how to identify and manage performance anxiety’s symptoms can help lessen the impact on your wellbeing.
Symptoms of performance anxiety
- Negative self-image and self-talk - ‘It won’t be good enough’, ‘I’m not smart enough’
- Procrastination - ‘I’ll do it later’, ‘I’ve got plenty of time’
- Finding reasons to avoid the situation
- Needing it to be ‘perfect’
- Physical responses such as heart palpitations, headaches, gastrointestinal problems, and hyperventilating
- Take the time to prepare – Write out notes and/or use cue cards, then practice & rehearse in front of a mirror or with a friend. Get familiar with the space you are using in advance, for example travelling to the location or the space itself
- Take a different perspective – Try and catch your negative thoughts by writing them down and ask yourself ‘What was going through my mind just then?’. Now take a step back from that thought and try to consider other perspectives. You could ask yourself ‘What is another way of looking at this situation?’ or ‘What would a friend say to me about this?’
- Learn to accept some anxiety – Anxiety often shows up because something is important to us and it shows us that we care. If the presentation was not important at all, we wouldn’t feel anxiety. See if you can allow the anxiety to be there. Try saying ‘Hello anxiety’ or saying to yourself ‘I am noticing a tightness in my chest or twisting in my stomach. I am feeling anxious right now’. Have a go at doing this yourself by listening to an Accepting Emotions exercise
- Breathe – Prior to your presentation, lower your baseline anxiety by doing some breathing exercises – try using the ReachOut Breathe app
Procrastination occurs when a person knows they need to do a specific task (e.g. assignment) but instead avoids the task by undertaking something less important (e.g. watching six funny cat videos, then washing the dishes, then watching a documentary that is semi-related to a future subject).
Procrastination often happens when you are demotivated, stressed, anxious, bored or fearful. Putting things off or not dealing with the situation, usually results in increased anxiety and stress.
Signs and symptoms
- Waiting until the last moment to do a task or leaving tasks until tomorrow
- Making excuses you know aren’t valid reasons
- Lack of passion, energy, or enthusiasm for that one specific task
- Being fearful of failure or successful
- Feeling stressed or anxious
- Understand why you procrastinate – When you think about all the things you need to do, how do you feel? What happens for you in your body? Does your chest tighten up? Do you feel nauseous? Procrastination can be a result of anxiety and/or perfectionism. Procrastination is a way of avoiding feeling discomfort, so ask yourself what are you avoiding and why? What purpose does procrastination serve? Check out this Procrastination module from the Centre of Clinical Interventions to explore more on your own
- Manage your distractions – Modify your environment so that you have a clean and tidy space to study (not your bed!), create space free of distraction, surround yourself with motivating people, or go to the library to study. Try using the Forest app to improve your productivity.
- Break it down into smaller goals - Break your tasks into small SMART goals, that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely. For example, rather than ‘I need to get started on this assignment’, a SMART goal would be ‘I am going to download and read 5 journal articles tomorrow after work’. Look here for more information SMART Goals.
- Don’t overload yourself – Long to-do lists make us feel overwhelmed and more likely to procrastinate. Only set a to-do list of three things and do not add anything else to that list until you have ticked off one of those three things.
- Find your peak energy period – Some students are most alert first thing in the morning whilst others learn best at night when there are fewer distractions. Find what works best for you and just ensure that if you are studying at night that you get enough sleep to be able to focus the next day
Experiencing exam stress is a common occurrence at University. Some students may experience perfectionism which further increases stress and anxiety. Learning how to handle stress and perfectionism can ease the burden surrounding the exam periods.
- Create a study timeline - A timeline will help you to spread out your revision in the weeks leading up to your exams. Make sure your timeline covers all of the necessary topics including the topics you covered in class and the topics and need to be revised
- Set time limits – Our brains are most productive within the first 25-30 minutes of study. Try organizing study in 30-minute blocks with 5-10 minute rests in between to give your brain a chance to consolidate what you have learnt
- Get grounded – Exams can make us feel overwhelmed. Listen to Dropping the Anchor to disconnect from unhelpful thoughts, connect to your body and reset your state of mind
- Prioritise and set goals for each study block – Prioritize what needs to be revised in the lead up to exams, prioritizing exams that are occurring first or those that you don’t feel as confident with. Choose a goal for each study period so that it gives you a focus for the session which can help to increase motivation and reduce procrastination
- Find your peak energy period – some students are most alert first thing in the morning whilst others learn best at night when there are fewer distractions. Find what works best for you and just ensure that if you are studying at night that you get enough sleep to be able to focus the next day
- Understand perfectionism - Understand what behaviours your perfectionism pushes you into doing (i.e. handing in assignments late so you have a reason why you got a poor grade) and how you feel about yourself when that happens (i.e. guilt, disappointed, ashamed). See if you can identify what you would like to be doing if perfectionism had less of a hold over you (i.e. starting assignments 2 weeks before the due date, starting an assignment even if you feel anxious)
- Keep a thought diary - Try keeping a thought diary to become aware of what your perfectionism says to you. Thoughts such as ‘It won’t be good enough’, ‘That sounds terrible’, ‘You need to start the assignment again’, ‘You need to get 80 on this’. Place a tick next to thoughts as you notice them come up and you may notice particularly ‘sticky’ thoughts that come up for you more often than others
- Identify where your perfectionism comes from – Ask yourself, who is saying these things to you? Most people will say ‘me’, but who does it remind you of? We can often take on other people’s beliefs as our own and recognizing this is the first step towards tackling perfectionism
- Identify perfectionism’s purpose – Write a list of all of the ways that perfectionism has helped you in the past (i.e. got you praise from mum & dad, helped you get good grades, built your confidence), and see if you can acknowledge how much perfectionism has served you. Now make a list of all of the ways perfectionism is making your life harder in the present day (i.e. handing in assignments late, feeling too scared to start, beating yourself up). Reflect on how perfectionism was perhaps once really important to you, but it no longer serves you in the present day
- Accept that perfectionism is part of your experience – Perfectionism shows up because something is important to us and it shows us that we care. See if you can allow perfectionism to be there, acknowledge it ‘Thanks perfectionism’. Like a passing acquaintance on the street, we want to nod our head but not stop to chat. We can allow perfectionism to be there, without letting it control what we do. Have a listen to Thanking Your Mind: Taking The Power Out of Difficult Thoughts
- Health and Wellbeing Centre: Call or drop-in to the Health & Wellbeing Centre located at Peribolos East Ground Floor (PE101), Bundoora Campus, which operates Monday to Friday, 10am-4pm. The Health & Wellbeing Mentors are available to offer drop-in sessions, provide information on accessing supports within the university including mental health, counselling, accessibility support and learning plans.
Self Help Programs
- Manchester University: Now or Never? Understanding the procrastination cycle
- Centre for Clinical Interventions: Procrastination
- Centre for Clinical Interventions: Perfectionism
- Forest – helps you to stay focused on a task and not pick up your phone
- ReachOut Breathe – helps you reduce the physical symptoms of stress and anxiety by slowing down your breathing and your heart rate with your iPhone or Apple Watch.
- ReachOut WorryTime – aims to help you manage your worrying by interrupting negative repetitive thinking and setting the matter aside until later.
- Oxford University: Managing your workload
- Berkley Student Learning Centre: Seven Day Procrastination Elimination Plan
- ReachOut's exam-slaying checklist
- Acceptance based technique: Thanking Your Mind: Taking The Power Out of Difficult Thoughts
- Sprouts: 13 Study Tips: The Science of Studying [Duration 5:22].
- Douglas Barton: What do top students do differently? [Duration 14:37].
- Kelly McGonigal: How to make stress your friend [Duration 14:17]