Keeping Calm Before the Storm

I’m not overly stressed right now … and it feels weird. Last semester, I got used to the combo of my procrastination and taking three seminars, so I was always drowning in last minute readings and response papers. But this semester, things changed: I’m deliberately managing my time better because I don’t want to experience the frenzy I went through in the fall.

A very accurate photo of me maintaining my cool during the semester

It feels odd not to be under crushing stress. It’s almost as if I fear things will get gradually harder and I won’t be able to keep up. That said, I discovered I really like this calm state I’m in. I’m more focused and engaged, probably because I’m making an effort not to put myself in the same procrastination- stress-burning out cycle. My work is getting more demanding each week, but I’m still maintaining an equilibrium.

I realized I’d like to maintain this mentality as long as possible, especially when midterms and finals weeks hit. Here are some tips I have–whether you feel crushing pressure or just feel like you’re coasting through–on how to stay relaxed and optimistic even as your work becomes more demanding.

1. Think about the past. When I put my work off until the last minute, I didn’t get enough sleep and therefore felt too tired to get ahead on my work to avoid the cycle of procrastination.  I loved the courses I took, but sometimes I wasn’t as focused or engaged because I was too exhausted. This semester, I wanted to get as much out of my courses as possible. That meant reflecting on my old habits, and fighting every procrastinator bone in my body to change them. It’s a gradual process, but the results are good so far.

2. Think about the future: Midterms and Finals are constantly on my mind. I don’t do this to stress myself out, but rather use the cumulative nature of exams to guide my studies. To keep from falling behind, I ask questions now so I can assemble and master these smaller ideas to get the more complicated ones. For example, in my math course, I address the concepts I don’t understand immediately so I can understand more advanced material.

3. Changing up the discourse: We’re all used to the “I’m drowning in work” or “I’m so behind” conversations with our peers, but as I’m talking to more and more people about my positive outlook this semester, it’s changing the types of conversations I’m having. When I respond “Things are actually not too bad right now”, I find that some of my peers–often the same people who would complain along with me in the first place–feel the same way. Maybe everyone is caught in a sweet spot, but I also think pressure comes from talking about it so much. Stay positive!

4. Don’t think of calm as fleeting: Material will get harder, but that doesn’t have to mean you have to stress yourself out more. Rather, keep calm by thinking of the “storm” as a test of all the good habits you’ve built. This is something I’m struggling with myself, but I’m keeping an optimistic attitude about my studies, and surprisingly that has made me more productive than the looming threat of more advanced material to come.

Just like you shouldn’t put any undue pressure on yourself to feel stressed, I also think you shouldn’t pressure yourself to relax either. I’ve also found effective ways to work under pressure, and let’s face it: there’s something really satisfying about getting something done under the wire. But, I’m also enjoying a more paced out work ethic. With midterms week rapidly approaching, I’m confident I can get through it because of this new outlook.

Elise Freeman, Social Sciences Correspondent