Have you heard the old joke, “How do you eat an elephant?” The answer is “One spoonful at a time!”

Our study for an exam or work to finish a big assignment often feels like eating the magnitude of an elephant. So just like the joke, I think it helps us to avoid study stress if we do a bit of study or tackle a part of our assignment each day.

There are a few perks for this method. When we do a bit each day, our brain has time to sift through what we’ve been doing and come up with other connections or knowledge that is stored away and so our study or assignment is richer for it.

The opposite of this method is doing everything at the last minute. When we leave everything to the last minute, we feel anxious and so our brain is not operating at its optimum. Stress causes the chemical cortisol to flow through our brains and excess cortisol causes memories to temporarily shrink so we are unable to access them in that moment. You can see that trying to write as assignment or do an exam in this state makes it much more difficult because you cannot access all the goodness you’ve previously stored in your brain.  (dr caroline leaf, 2009, “who switched off my brain?”)

So a key to calming our cortisol levels down is breathing. Now we’ve all been told by well-meaning adults, take a REALLY deep breath and so we take a REALLY deep breath and feel weird. The key is to take slow breaths and focus on breathing out. So often we hold our breath when we are stressed and we don’t even realise we’re not breathing. If we can take slow breaths for even just 2 minutes, we will feel a shift in our body from stress to calm!! Perusal time in an exam is a great time to do some slow breathing. By the time you can start writing, you’ll be calm and your brain will be online and ready to go!

As for studying, I think part of the problem is monotony. It’s just so boring. A few tips to make study a bit more interesting and useful! Firstly, if we just read the textbook, or print out text from the internet and highlight it, this will not be the best way to get information to stick in our brains. No matter what we study, we continue to find that writing down what we are learning in a variety of different ways helps our retention of information the most!

Try writing your notes in colours, using pictures instead of words at times and use lots of flow charts. Use circles and arrows to link points and try and put the information in your own words. That way your brain is engaged in the writing process and will connect the things you are learning with things you already know. This will help you remember things much better! Plus your notes look pretty and it’s a lot more fun to look at!

One other thing I’ve noticed about procrastination is that our life gets out of balance. One minute we're all chilled ‘cause we’re doing nothing, and the next minute we're pulling all-nighters to finish our art major and our stress levels go through the roof! If instead we eat the elephant one bite at a time, we’ve still got time to sleep, prepare healthy snacks and go to our dance class or netball game instead of skipping everything that helps make us feel good and living on caffeine and processed sugars.

Our mental health and well-being takes a big hit when we don’t eat or sleep well. Next minute we’re not only dealing with stress and last minute deadlines, but we’re feeling depressed and anxious which is a downward spiral to a place we’d rather avoid! If you can find balance by doing one relaxing thing each day, one physical exercise thing each day and by getting at least eight hours of sleep and eating well, you will feel a lot better! It’s actually a recipe for success for the rest of your life. Why don't we start training for the rest of our life now!

Gretchen Mitchell