I’m not going to lie, I really enjoy trawling through #studyspo. I honestly love stationary so much that living as close to Officeworks as I do is probably a hazard. But when it comes to actually studying, my passion is a little less prolific. By which I mean that unlike the wonders I find in #paleodessert, study is not a thing that I look forward to trying out for myself.
Any number of chronic health conditions (everything from depression to IBS to multiple sclerosis) come with a symptom called Cognitive Dysfunction, more simply known as ‘brain fog’. So even aside from the stifling lack of motivation and pervasive fatigue, thinking is just damn difficult.
It’s time to study smarter, not harder. Here’s seven steps to making studying easier as a spoonie.
Change your clothes. This seems really basic, but hygiene is notoriously difficult to maintain when chronic fatigue, chronic pain, or mental illness are flaring up. Keep this simple, and do what you can. Brush your hair, tie it out of your way, and remember that dry shampoo is your friend. Have a shower (shower chairs are the best, I don’t know why everyone doesn’t use them). If you can’t manage a shower, baby wipes and fresh deodorant make all the difference. Regardless, change your clothes. Even if it’s just to a new set of pyjama clothes.
I think the saying is ‘a cluttered desk makes a cluttered mind’. I don’t know how true that is, because I know plenty of organised people with messy desks. But I find studying so much less overwhelming when my study space is clean and tidy. Check out my faves #studyspo and #stationary for inspiration, or at the very least go through and throw out things that are used up or useless, and tidy the rest! If you really can’t handle the tidying up – avoid the issue by studying in nature!
Write down everything that you need to get done. This can look really overwhelming, but we’re going to get to dealing with it all soon. I find a separate list for each subject is most useful. Break up tasks into manageable pieces. For example, instead of saying ‘catch up on readings’ say, ‘read chapter 1, read chapter 2′ etc. Research shows that our brains like short term success more than long term success, and marking things of on checklists releases dopamine, which means a happier you!
There are lots of ways of doing this, but it’s now time to prioritise your checklist. I do this with three different coloured highlighters. One colour stands for ‘it needs to get done today’, one for ‘it needs to get done this week’, and another for longer term projects. Some people find timetabling their day a really effective strategy, but it doesn’t work for me because I really don’t know when I will need to block out time to nap, or when a task might take longer than usual because of brain fog. Not being able to stick to a timetable can create feeling of failure, whereas a checklist provides regular feelings of success.
Not pacing the floor – figure out what pace you can work at. That means find out what time period you can continue effectively for before needing a break, and how long does that break need to be. This doesn’t actually mean study until your brain doesn’t work any more and then take a break. Research shows that for healthy students this is 50 minutes of working, and a ten minute break. More practically, a good place to start is working for 20 minutes, breaking for 10. You might find you can concentrate for longer than 20. In that case, try bumping it up slightly and seeing how you go. If you can’t last 20 minutes, try ten or fifteen instead. Working in five minute blocks is still working.
Having a rest break from your study is crucial. I talked about timing in the point above, so here I’m going to talk about activities. It’s really tempting to take a break by watching something on the computer or tv, and that does work for some people. I start to struggle after I’ve been using my eyes for a while though, so I’m a big fan of grabbing my crutches and having a walk around my back yard, feeling the grass on my bare feet, or sitting out there on a picnic rug and having a snack. The vitamin D is great, the fresh air is invigorating, and there is a lot of research coming out that ‘grounding’ yourself can have all kinds of health benefits. I can’t comment on the science of all these things, but I know it makes me feel better and can go a long way to clearing my head. I don’t really care if it’s a placebo effect if it works!
Keep to your normal sleep patterns. Do not stay up late studying (or catching up on TV shows that you’ve missed while you were studying). That means that unless you’ve worked out a particular system with your doctor, you should probably be aiming to go to bed around 9pm, and wake up at 7am. This helps keep your circadian rhythm regular. Of course you may still need naps during the day to refresh, so take these in half hour doses when you feel like you need them to stay sharp!
One last thing
If you have fallen behind in classes, keep up with the current topics! Don’t focus on trying to catch up on things you’ve missed at the cost of things that are currently being discussed in class. You’re much better off keeping up with the current stuff and revising the topics you missed at the end. That way you can ask questions in class, and worst case scenario you’ll know those topics a little better than the ones that you only got to skim through after missing them the first time around.
Any spoonie study tips you want to share? Comment them here!