By Susan Tilbury
Academic expectations sky rocket throughout the teenage years, and the stress of revision, exams and making life-changing career choices can wreak havoc on a young person’s mental health. If you are knee-deep in revision, you have to remember that whilst studying is important, it is vital to look after yourself by including regular resting periods in your schedule. Not only are these essential for preventing common mental disorders such as depression and anxiety, but taking time-out will also ensure you enable yourself to be able to achieve the best possible results. Here are six reasons why you need to take study breaks:
Have you ever heard of mental or cognitive overload, otherwise known as ‘burnout’? Whilst there are various names for this state of mind, the symptoms are the same. Burnout is a feeling of hopelessness, frustration and overwhelm that can happen as a result of not taking enough time to destress and relax. Constantly trying to learn and remember large amounts of information without taking appropriate breaks is a recipe for mental overload. Working in shorter bursts is far more effective and will help you keep a clear and calm mind rather than becoming overwhelmed and stressed.
When we are feeling buried under the weight of our responsibilities and obligations, we become stressed. The stress hormone, cortisol, can make us feel physically ill, causing symptoms such as nausea, decreased appetite, headaches, trouble sleeping and difficulty concentrating. Chronic stress (a constant state of stress over a period of time) can even cause reduced cognitive function and raised blood pressure, neither of which are going to help you pass your exams.
It is vital that you make time to have regular opportunities to change your environment, scenery, and refresh your mind. Young people typically spend far too much time indoors, which can lead to depression and anxiety disorders. Going for a walk, bike ride, or spending some time outdoors with friends will actively lower the level of cortisol in your body. Spending at least two hours outside every week is essential for maintaining our mental health and overall happiness. Better still, after some fresh air you are likely to return to your studies with more enthusiasm and increased accuracy, mental speed, and focus.
Prevent aches and pains
Our bodies were not designed to be crouched over a book or computer all day. Long hours at a desk often result in musculoskeletal pain and discomfort in our backs, shoulders and necks. To avoid this, get up and move around regularly, grab a drink or even stretch for a few minutes in the middle of a long sprint of study.
Eye strain is also becoming more common as people tend to look at screens for many hours of the day. To relax your eyes and decrease the chances of experiencing eye strain, try this technique: for every 20 minutes you spend looking at a screen or book, focus your gaze on something 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds.
Ignoring your body’s warning signs, such as sore eyes and back ache, can lead to frustration, emotional distress and a loss of motivation. When we are uncomfortable, we don’t work effectively and will inevitably achieve less than if we were free from aches and pains.
Maintain social relationships
You don’t need us to tell you it isn’t healthy to be cooped up by yourself in a room for hours on end. People need social interaction, even more so throughout the teenage years, where positive relationships can directly increase emotional wellbeing and academic success. If you specifically schedule time for socialising, it can help to relieve any feelings of guilt you may have about leaving your desk.
Try not to put too much pressure on yourself and remember that your friends are in the same boat. If you notice someone becoming isolated, keep in mind that this could be a symptom of stress, anxiety or depression and they may need some help or support.
More effective studying
When you are immersed in a subject and are struggling to make sense of it, often it is only when you step away that your brain ‘clicks’. You have an ‘aha’ moment where you suddenly understand the one thing that has been boggling your mind all day. This is because our brain makes sense of information largely in our subconscious. When you step back from a problem or thought process, your inner mind takes over and works to process, understand, and store the information gathered.
Your brain can make stronger connections between short-term and long-term memory if you take a break, meaning you’ll have better recall of that information and more mental clarity of the subject matter. In addition, stepping away for a while will help you to refresh and calm your mind, increasing your motivation to continue when you return.
This is also a great reason to remember to pace yourself. Making the time to revise consistently and at a peaceful, manageable pace from the start will ensure you feel confident when the due date rolls around. Leaving things to the last minute is a dangerous habit that can force you to stay up all night before an exam desperately trying to cram information into your brain, which, as you now know, is not how your brain works.
Discover a routine that works for you
Depending on the intensity of your subjects, the time spent actively studying and resting can be varied. If you have been struggling with complicated algebra equations for an hour, you may need a longer break than if you have been enjoying making a presentation, for example.
There are many models of time management which can work for different personality types or people who learn best in different ways. For some, background music can help them study more efficiently, whereas for others it can be an irritating distraction. Experiment with studying for 50 minutes with a 10 – 15 minute break, then try 90 minutes with a 25 minute break and see which makes you feel more productive and focused.
Hopefully this guide has helped you to understand the importance of including regular, quality breaks within your study schedule, which will help you maintain your mental and physical well being throughout your academic pursuits.
Private tutoring for academic and executive support is available through Alliance Tutoring to support these habits. Please see Our Services for details, and contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 203-340-0790 for more information.