relieve stress in college by making decisions ahead of time
You want to relieve stress in college, and I have a simple strategy fundamental to stress relief. It goes by many names: constraint/limit/commitment/focus/minimalism. This is true freedom to stop stressing and focus on what matters most. Only recently did I identify this as the key reason I have been able to accomplish so much in my life, and after noticing it, have been able to intentionally apply it in so many more ways!
I mentioned a while back some pretty drastic changes I made to my diet. At first, I felt ALL. THE. FEELINGS. I was losing most of my favorite foods and thinking about how hard it would be to miss out on them. With a large dose of dread, I got started. There were very clear-cut rules of what I wasn’t allowed to eat. I took the list and taped it to the fridge as a reminder.
After six months of this lifestyle, I can tell you the list made decisions about food so easy! If someone asks me whether I want a cookie I can easily and immediately decide yes or no. I don’t waste my energy deciding how many calories there are, if I’m going to gain weight, or if I need it. (’cause sometimes we need a cookie, am I right?) I have rules about what I eat that make my decisions easy and without drama.
I guarantee you do this naturally in many areas of your life already. When you go to the store and buy toothpaste, do you examine the 75 different boxes and toothpaste and decide which ones the best and why it’s the best for you? Of course not! You have some rules for picking your paste. Maybe you love one brand and buy what is on sale? Or maybe you only buy fluoride-free paste and don’t care about a brand. Do you buy the exact same box of toothpaste every single time? These are all rules that constrain and narrow your choices from seventy-five to five or less.
You also have constraints regarding your work. You work certain hours every week and you don’t work during other hours. This is a limit. You decide your working hours and then stick with the decision. You answer every email sent to you. This is a constraint. You deliver all of your assignments on time. Again, a commitment.
You don’t have to question whether you’ll work this Monday or whether to respond to your boss’s request. There is no decision to make because you have decided ahead of time what your rules are about these things.
This is a good thing.
Making decisions uses up our brainpower. There is a limit to how many decisions we can make each day and you don’t want to burn up your decision-making ability on things that don’t really matter. Many people resist the idea of constraint or limited decisions because it can feel like a lack of freedom. It isn’t.
Too many choices are the cause of stress in college.
Make your choices once and then trust your earlier self to stick by them until there is a reason to re-evaluate. If you want to relieve stress in college for the long-term, you have to reevaluate all of the choices causing you stress.
Why Choices mean Stress
In her book, The Art of Choosing, Sheena Iyengar details a study about decision making and jam. A grocery store tested two sampling stations to see which resulted in more sales. In the first station there were 24 flavors of jam to sample; in the second only 6.
Care to guess which one had the most sales?
Thirty percent of customers purchased jam from the station with only six samples, while only three percent purchased from the sampling of twenty-four flavors. Only three percent.
24 choices = 3% sales
6 choices = 30% sales
Why? Because more choices mean more stress. There are far too many factors to consider and the easiest option is to opt-out. Remember, our brains like the easy route!
Imagine a really stressful day…maybe even today! At work, there were emails, phone calls, and meetings all day long. You were constantly running from one thing to another, trying to decide how to answer each question and each request. Then you come home and decide what to make for dinner and how to help your kids with their homework. By the time everyone is in bed, what do you want to do?
I want to veg out in front of the TV so I don’t have to think or make any more decisions. I want to opt-out of my life for a little while so I can stop feeling stressed. Maybe I should be studying instead, but I don’t feel like it.
Limiting the number of decisions we make frees us to focus on what matters.
Is Narrowing Focus for you?
You may be thinking “Yeah, this is great for you, Jessica, but I don’t want to limit myself. I need choices and freedom! I’m a free spirit!”. I want to relieve stress in college, but I want to experience everything else too!
I totally get this. It’s why Americans coined the phrase FOMO, or Fear of Missing Out. We hate the idea of missing out on anything. Consequently, we’re less intentional and how we spend our time and energy and not any happier for it. (actually, studies have shown it’s detrimental to students)
You may benefit by narrowing your focus if you…
- struggle to decide to study or not each day
- are frustrated with your grades
- feeling overwhelmed and out of control with school
Now, there are areas of your life where you do this really well already. I promise. Look for the area where you feel like you are killing it.
One example I see so clearly is in parenting. In our house, when we have a clear rule there are no questions and no pushback. One of our rules is we only use the iPad on Thursdays. I don’t get any questions about if we can use the iPad today. We do it on Thursdays. Period. Before we had the rule, my daily frustration over being asked about the iPad and deciding was outrageous.
When the rules are not clear, the drama creeps in. Sometimes we have dessert after dinner and sometimes we don’t. Guess what? I get questions all the bloody time about dessert! I am so tired of and frustrated by dessert questions! I’m exhausted at the end of the day and don’t want to decide whether sugar is a fun treat or wrecking our health. The frustration I feel when the questions come up let me know I haven’t yet made a decision to fall back on and if I want to relieve the stress I need to make one.
That feeling is my clue, and yours.
The areas you are most frustrated with and struggle to make progress are where you most need limits and constraints.
Make Decisions Ahead of Time
I’m going to assume since you’re here with me that study may be your sore spot. You did just search “relieve stress for college students’, right? 🙂 So how do we define constraints and narrow our focus when it comes to school?
Here are a few decisions you can make about your approach to school to relieve stress in college immensely. Make the decision today, and then stop allowing yourself to question it.
Stick with your decision for at least a week and you can reevaluate if you don’t feel the decisions are exactly right for you. If not, make a new decision and stick with it for at least a week. The key is to decide once and live by it as a rule.
- What days do you study and what days do you not study?
- How long do you study at a time?
- What do you allow yourself to do while you are studying? Do you allow the TV on? Do you allow your phone to send notifications?
- Where do you study?
- Who do you study with?
- What study tools do you use?
- Do you take notes?
- How do you review your notes?
- How often do you review your notes?
- How do you revise your notes?
- How often do you revise your notes?
- Do you complete the assigned readings?
- Do you complete the homework assignments?
- Do you always go to class?
- Do you sometimes go to class?
- Are there some classes you never miss?
- What do you do during class?
- Do you take notes during class?
- Do you use your computer during class?
- Do you use your phone during class?