Why are students under pressure?

Why you shouldn't put too much pressure on yourself while studying - and how you can do it!

by Tim Reichel

A college student called me last week and poured out her heart on me. Let's call her Steffi. And one thing in advance: Steffi is a true master at herself to put yourself under pressure. But one after anonther. Steffi reported that she was stuck in her studies and didn't know what to do next. Seven exams - this semester alone. In addition, there are two exams that she has pushed. In addition, there is still a housework waiting for her and the part-time job to finance her apartment also costs a lot of time. Steffi wanted to know how she was supposed to do it.

"Why do you want to take a total of nine exams in one semester?" I asked back. “In order to stay within the standard period of study,” I got the answer. "And the grades also have to be right so that I can keep my first cut and later write a doctoral thesis."

Yes moin. Basically, I have nothing against high goals - so I suggested spreading the workload over several semesters, studying one module after the other and agreeing an individual course plan with your student advisory service. You could organize the examination phase backwards with my learning planning method and also complete the learning units in stages. I reeled off my standard repertoire, which works in (felt) 99 percent of the cases and contains at least one impulse that ensures positive lasting effects.

It was not the case with Steffi. Steffi started to cry.


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"As if I were stupid."

Oops. Did I say the wrong thing? When she had calmed down, I asked what was going on. It burst out of her: “In principle, I know what to do. But I can't do it. I can't get myself up. I can't stick to my plan. Every time I decide to learn a little bit, I see how much is still ahead of me and think to myself 'I won't be able to do that anyway'. And then again I don't do anything all day. Like I'm stupid You can't imagine what that is like. "

Yes, I can.

The problems that Steffi reports carry around with many students. They weigh tons on their shoulders. But these problems do not come from studying; they are homemade. It is their own expectations of themselves. These students put themselves under such pressure while studying that their entire organism goes on strike. They ask the impossible of themselves and in the face of this insurmountable hurdle they lose their courage.

Instead of working a tiny bit on their goals, they do nothing and postpone important learning units. They crowd out their work. But that only makes it worse: Over time, the blockage grows and becomes more and more threatening. At some point these students can no longer see a way out, change courses or end their university career prematurely. Even though they have much, much greater potential.


Positive pressure vs. negative pressure

I'll tell you in a moment how I helped Steffi. Maybe these approaches will work for you too, if you put yourself under a lot of pressure while studying. First, however, we need to be aware of why too much pressure is bad and how this destructive mechanism lodges in your mind. I'll keep it short - I promise.

There is a theory that pressure can appear in a negative form (stress) and a positive form (eustress). Timothy Ferriss is writing about it if you want to read it up. In any case, stress is the more familiar form and it makes you feel bad. You use more energy than usual, you are irritable and you do not enjoy your work. Persistent stress weakens your immune system and makes you sick. The greater the stress, the more serious the effects.

Eustress, on the other hand, gives you wings. This form of pressure drives you and ensures that you can grow beyond yourself. Thanks to positive pressure, we can stay focused for hours, get by with little sleep and get completely absorbed in one thing. But over time, eustress can also turn into stress. As a rule, this reversal happens when your own expectations are too high.


How students put themselves under pressure while studying

Many students set themselves high goals. As I said: I am a friend of ambitious goals - but a goal in itself is worth nothing. It depends on the implementation. If you plan to pass your next exam with a 1.0, that's a good goal. But how do you want to achieve it? If you don't think about how to implement it and don't come up with a plan, your goal is nothing more than high expectations. A high expectation that haunts your head all day and robs you of your last nerve.

There are other examples of this type:

  • "I have to pass my next exam."
  • "I have to get a very good grade for my thesis."
  • "I have to study in the standard period of study."
  • "I have to pass all the exams this semester."
  • "I absolutely have to do a semester abroad."

These can all be sensible goals - if they are feasible. Without a smart plan and determined execution, these endeavors are worthless. Worse still, you are actually harming yourself with these goals because you are only building negative pressure with them. And this one will block you and kill your motivation.

But don't worry: there are a few pressure-reducing measures that I can recommend to you with a clear conscience.


How you can put yourself under less pressure - 4 realistic tips

There are tons of ways you can deal with pressure. It depends above all on your personality and the current situation in which you find yourself. But there are also a handful of universal strategies that always work. Here are four realistic tips that can help reduce the pressure on yourself while studying:


Tip 1: take out the rubbish!

Exaggerated expectations (and thus negative pressure) arise in your head. Often a destructive thought is enough to trigger a momentous chain reaction in you. For example, if you want to start preparing for exams for a demanding lecture, the first impression is usually: "Shit, that's a lot!"

From this objective statement, a firework of pessimism can arise in a split second: “But that's a lot. Is there enough time for that? It's complicated too. Do I even understand? How am I supposed to do this? I can't do it at all. I'm stupid. The others are much smarter than me. I can't do any of that. "

One negative thought leads to the next and an honest inventory (“But that's a lot!”) Turns into sad resignation (“I can't do all of this.”).

When you find yourself trapped in such a destructive thought pattern, it can help to write those thoughts down. By putting your thoughts on paper, you get them out of your head. No matter how messed up you are - just let it all out. Especially the negative currents that make you feel guilty or fearful. You don't need this trash. Put it in front of the door so that it can be disposed of.

Reading tip: How to use the GTD method to eliminate the chaos in your head forever


Tip 2: divide your goals!

At the beginning we talked about goals. You will definitely remember: goals can only be used for something if you can implement them; otherwise, they fuel unrealistic expectations and can be depressing. A tried and tested means of overcoming this unfavorable mechanism is to break down large goals into small sub-steps. That way, your goals will become more tangible and easier for you to achieve.

An example: Suppose you want to pass your next exam with a very good grade. Your overall goal in this case could be:

  • Pass “Introduction to Whatever” with a grade of 1.3.

So far so good. However, you shouldn't stick to this goal. It is much more skillful to break this goal down into small intermediate goals and assign them specific actions that you can easily carry out. Like this:

  • Intermediate objective 1: View lecture documents
  • Intermediate objective 2: Read the lecture notes
  • Intermediate objective 3: Summarize the lecture notes
  • Interim objective 4: Work on the exercises for Chapter 1
  • And so on

So you determine small milestones on the way to your big goal. All you have to do now is mentally deal with the next, small interim goal and you can work your way forward step by step. Your big goal will now be able to put you under much less pressure because it only acts in the background. First and foremost are the intermediate goals. If you then provide them with specific deadlines and regularly revise your planning, you will also ensure professional self-management that guides you through every exam preparation in a relaxed manner.

Reading tip: The watermelon tactic: dismember your studies and never lose track of things again!


Tip 3: create a schedule!

Speaking of deadlines: Stress or negative pressure often only arises because tasks are planned poorly or not at all. Uncertainty is the biggest problem here: because you don't know what to take care of when, you constantly have the feeling that you have to think about everything. You can never switch off, but you also fail to focus on one important thing. Your mind is scattered and roaming wildly.

A schedule can help you with this issue. First, collect all important tasks and to-dos on a list. Also take your intermediate goals from the previous tip and assign a specific date to each point. Also estimate the duration of each task - realistically! For example, if you set yourself up for next Monday to review three lecture chapters, read a book, study seven case studies, and write 25 pages of your coursework, your schedule is everything - just unworkable.

This brings us to another advantage of this planning strategy: Excessive expectations and unrealistic goals become clearly visible. And according to objective standards. Your available time is not negotiable. You can work on your time management (for example with the next reading tip), but if you realize during your planning that you actually cannot achieve a previously set goal, it is your duty as a smart person to give up this goal. Or correct.

Reading tip: Bachelor of Time - time management during studies


Tip 4: define ONE realistic daily goal!

Intermediate goals and time planning ensure that you put yourself under less pressure in the long term - but you also need a strategy for your daily challenges. What I particularly like to recommend to stressed students is setting a so-called “daily goal”. With this concept, you define a daily task that you can definitely do. Not ten tasks, not two - really just one. And it doesn't even have to be very extensive.

"But if I only work off one task from my to-do list every day, I will never achieve my goals!"

Take it easy, let me explain: Your goal for the day is not about “only” taking care of this one goal. Rather, it is a fixed point that should give you support. Your daily goal is a minimum of what you can achieve. For example:

  • Read 10 pages
  • Learn 5 vocabulary
  • Combine 2 slides
  • Write 1 page
  • And so on

Yes, these may be small steps, but if you do even one of them every day, you'll consistently get a little further. You don't stop, you create a productive dynamic. With every little success, your motivation will grow. In all likelihood, once you have reached your daily goal, you won't stop, but rather tackle the next intermediate goal. In this way you come into a completely natural flow without having to put yourself under pressure while learning. You just have to achieve your daily goal.

Reading tip: How you can use the chain rule to stay motivated from the first day of the semester


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Learning under pressure can work. Many students even need the stress to get going and deliver top performance. However, if you put yourself under too much pressure, you run the risk of a dangerous state of blockage. At some point your mind will strike - and then you will find yourself in the same situation as Steffi.

To prevent this from happening, I recommend the four strategies from this article as an acute measure or as a preventive treatment. Here is a quick overview so that you never forget it again:

  • Take out your trash - and make destructive thought patterns visible!
  • Divide your big goals - and define small intermediate steps!
  • Create a schedule - and correct unrealistic expectations!
  • Define a daily goal - and spark a productive dynamic!

One last thing: don't convince yourself that you're stupid just because something doesn't work the way you thought it would. First, it's not true and, second, there's no point in making yourself bad. If a certain path did not lead you to your goal, you just look for another. Forgive yourself for possible mistakes, tick them off and immediately start over. Prove to yourself that you can do better. Step by step - as in tip 4.


Image: © Daria Shevtsova / pexels.com