As university students, we all experience stress in some way. Sometimes it is ignorable, sometimes it is  totally manageable, and at times it can feel utterly debilitating. Time management and relaxation strategies can work wonders with the first two scenarios, but for the last one, sometimes they just don’t cut it.

When I get this “intense stress” as I will call it, it feels like no matter how I organize myself, there are just not enough hours in the day to do everything I have to do. Because I have so. Much. Stuff. To. Do.  There is just so much I need to accomplish it’s overwhelming and I seriously doubt my ability to do it. And taking time for myself, meditating, exercising, and “relaxing” activities can’t take my brain off of everything I should be doing at that moment and worrying I won’t be able to do it all and that I won’t be able to do it well enough.

When I get intense stress, I tend to:

  1.  Tell myself I can handle it and micromanage my time; this often involves not giving myself enough time to relax and have fun, and also staying up later and getting up earlier to try to cram more stuff in a day. Less sleep and less brain-off time is the perfect breeding ground for intense stress.
  2. Focus poorly. When my brain is in ten million places at once, I can’t focus properly on the task at hand.
  3. Get frustrated. I can’t focus, and I’m running on a fried brain.  Do you think I’m getting good results from my labor? No.
  4. Push harder. I’m frustrated with my lack of progress, so I push myself harder to try to get them. Hello even more tired brain.  I tell myself I should stop (this usually goes for practicing for me), but I haven’t accomplished what I wanted to yet so I keep saying “Just a little longer” for what turns into a lot longer, resulting in even less progress and possibly injury (in the case of my hands).
  5. Cry. I break. I lie on the floor for a while.  I question my abilities and also the fairness of the universe.
  6. Check in with reality. Okay, clearly what I’m doing is not working, made obvious by my breakdown. I need to take a break. I need to breathe. I need to remember that even in the worst case scenario, I will still be alive, and there will still be people who love me. And those, above all, are the most important things. What I have to do isn’t going to be easy; it might not be fun.  But there is a pretty good chance things are going to be okay.  However, letting your stress possess you isn’t the way to get there.

What am I going to do now? Well, honestly, I’m not sure. I’m going to take it a day at a time. I’m going to take more me time, sleep more, not pack my days so full. Not get mad at myself if things don’t go the way I want. I’m going to do my best, and if it isn’t good enough, well. I’m just going to try to get through this degree, and then live my life at a pace I like.

Also I’m maybe going to look into stress management classes.


“I Don’t Belong Here” Syndrome

Diagnosis: “I Don’t Belong Here” Syndrome

Symptoms: Feelings of low self-esteem and confidence, worthlessness, anxiety, stress, depression, doubt. Wondering if one really has what it takes to be a UBC student.

Unfortunately, it is all too common this time of year for students to develop “I Don’t Belong Here” Syndrome.  With finals looming, you look at your midterm marks which maybe as high as you were hoping, and if you’re in first year, probably not as high as your high school marks, and you wonder if you’re really smart enough to be at UBC.  Your previous marks disappointed you, and your brain is tired now and you wonder if you can muster the strength to finish that final 100 metre stretch of the race.

It happens to me too.  Since I can’t practice much because of my hands, the pieces I’m working on aren’t in the kind of shape I’d like them to be in, and all of my peers seem to be miles ahead of me. In my harp quartet jury (like a test-performance which you get graded on), I didn’t perform nearly as well as I wanted to, and I started getting in a funk.  Throughout the year, I feel less than confident about my abilities, and although my teacher frequently tells me that I’m doing well and that I’m talented, I can’t help but feel like I’m just not good enough.

But the truth is, I’m doing fine. I’m just psyching myself out. And if the above symptoms sound like you, that’s what you’re doing too.  If I was no good at harp, I wouldn’t have been admitted.  Everyone who gets into UBC is smart.  So if you were smart enough to get in, you’re smart enough to stay in.

Your courses are designed to be challenging and push you to your limits.  If you feel like you need help, that’s nothing to be ashamed of; that’s why UBC has tons of academic resources for you to take advantage of.

You do belong here! Try not to get discouraged. UBC chose you, after all, and they weren’t wrong about i!


How to Not Cram the Night Before: Samantha’s Approach to Midterms

Time and time again I’ll be reading some poor student’s blog or twitter feed and what I see is basically this: “OMG my exam is tomorrow gotta study all night omg omg I’m so freaked out my brain is exploding!”

More or less, anyway.

Now, I am not a crammer.  I’ve never done it, and I very nearly always walk into my exams feeling confident and relatively anxiety-free, at least when I compare myself to those around me.  And, most importantly, my marks turn out just like I want to, as evidenced by the scholarships UBC keeps offering me.

What’s my secret? Easy: start studying a week before your test. (At least.)  That’s really all there is to it, besides figuring out how you study best.  What I do is do about an hour or so of reading for about three days starting a week before the test, so the material is all fresh in my mind. You can’t start memorizing if you can’t even remember what you’ve covered in the last month.  After those three days, you do some hard core studying in the next three days (preferably on a weekend). Condensing your notes, guessing and practicing answering questions you think will be on the test, testing yourself.  Then, the night before, you get to breathe. Relax. Read over the study notes you made, test yourself a little bit more. What you should find is that as you read over those notes, your brain goes, yes yes, I know this stuff already. And you know why? Digesting information over a longer period of time is going to make it stick way better than if you stuff it all in your head the night before when you’re all stressed out.  And, you’ve accomplished what the course is actually about: learning, as opposed to memorizing for one test and then promptly forgetting everything after it’s over.

If you have several midterms a week, it can be easy to focus on one subject and forget about the other tests, and just study for each test as they come. But, if you do an hour or half an hour of studying each day for each subject a week before the exam, you’ll know your stuff better, and have less work overall the night before each test.

A bonus for using this method: now you have great study notes for when finals come around! Not to mention, you’ll remember more of the material from your midterm when it comes time to write that final exam.

I hope this helps you through your time of midterms!

Hi there, I’m something different today

During exam season it is stereotypically true for students to be stuck indoors “studying”. Be it at home, in libraries, coffee shops, and any other spots that are considered fit for studious business. Generally it is eat, study, sleep, and/or the transit from whichever place of review. As far as I know, crazy stories of social life don’t generally come from this time. Going out is pretty difficult as the rational brain says “Oh jeez, I should probably spend the time it would take to go out to just study” when in reality you don’t really get much studying done in the amount of time it would have taken for you to have some fun and chill outdoors. It’s always the “what if” problem!

Instead of staying home to study today, I took 2 hours to go out and walk around Broadway. I grabbed a bite to eat at McDonalds (I try to be healthy) and ended up having a complete stranger sit across from me. There is something about small crowded spaces that provide a greater chance of conversing with a stranger. Yeah it’s the smallness and crowdedness. Simply put, the man who sat across from me wasn’t the most handsomely dressed man in the world and I wonder how many people would actually feel uncomfortable being beside him. Food for thought. He had ordered an ice cream cone and it was starting to drip all over the place. Having his hands full, he called out to a McDonalds worker who was where the napkins were located. Said worker didn’t hear the gentleman sitting across from me and I asked if a napkin was what he desired. He said yes, so I jumped off my seat and grabbed him one. An exchange of “thank you” and “no problem” occurred subsequently. We both ate in silence for a few minutes with the occasional exchange of smiles. He started further conversation first, asking me if I was happy about Vancouver winning the Grey Cup. I regrettably declared that I did not watch football, but did say that if it made everyone else happy then that’s probably all that really matters. I then asked him if he followed hockey and he replied that he followed it here and there. In my head I thought “well there goes the use of hockey for conversation” but it wasn’t a total loss as hockey isn’t my most desired topic of discussion. A few moments of silence again, and he asked if I was studying to be a doctor. The thought of that put a smile to my face and I corrected the notion and revealed that I was actually studying Political Science at UBC. This somehow lead to me mentioning that I was learning some Russian at UBC as well and he responded by saying that he used to be able to speak a fair amount of Russian. Catching my interest, I asked if he had been to Russia and lo and behold he had been. This then jumped towards Russian literature. Quite fitting.

At this point the scruffily dressed gentleman proceeded to talk much on Russian literature. When someone gets to discuss something that they are knowledgable about, boy is it great to listen! One thing I got out of it, was a greater interest in Russian literature. The second, a chance to observe and listen to the way this wonderful gentleman spoke. When discussing Russian literature he spoke with clarity, confidence, and passion. His choice of words flowed perfectly together and there were no filler words such as “um”, “like”, “you know”, and “uhhh”. Being very much accustomed to hearing people speaking using the word “like” (I myself am guilty at this and I kick myself in the brain each time I catch myself using it improperly) it was a breath of fresh air for my ears and brain. A very encouraging experience when one wants to improve his/her speaking ability. In case a reader is curious, the gentleman talked mainly about The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov and how it eluded to the problems Russia had before the Communist Revolution. Very very interesting.

So taking 2 hours out of supposed “studying time” and being out and about on a whim was truly worth it today. If the loss was a full letter grade, heck even 3 letter grades, then I wouldn’t really consider it a loss. It was more of a gain for myself as that experience worth more than any mark I could possibly get. I reinforced my value on speech ability and the age old expression of never judging a book by its cover. We all know the latter and former but we all need little reminders of it here and there throughout our existence on this rock that is earth. One won’t get any reminders if they aren’t out and about. Ain’t that the truth. The only regret I have? Not having the courage of asking him for a photo. His eyes were clear and a wonderful sight.