Dawn Papandrea | March 12, 2014
There’s no doubt that being a new college student can be a stressful experience. From adjusting to the differences between high school and college and a new set of academic expectations, to learning how to stay motivated and organized, the transition can be a challenge.
We caught up with Dr. Jenny C. Yip, a clinical psychologist and executive director of the Renewed Freedom Center in Los Angeles, Ca., as well as the author of Productive Successful You. If you’re a stressed out college student, what she says about beating procrastination and changing your perspective on anxiety can be a game changer that helps you maximize and enjoy your college years. Read on…
CB: So, are students more stressed today?
Dr. Yip: I don’t know that they’re more stressed out than previous years. There is a lot more awareness of anxiety and stress, so they might be more in tune with how they are feeling. Because there is a lot more information about it today, people are able to identify it much easier.
There are going to be some kids who are perfectionists and what that means is it’s going to take them a lot more time to reach their idea of perfection, and that could be adding to their stress level. Some kids are doing a lot more and overscheduling themselves with limited time. Then you have other kids who simply don’t have the skills to be able to break tasks down into smaller pieces.
CB: What is it about college that generates an extra dose of anxiety?
Dr. Yip: College is very different from high school. When you’re in college, you’re basically given a syllabus and kind of left on your own to figure out when you’re going to do what. College professors don’t break down each assignment for you. Students don’t have a clear path to travel to reach task completion.
Dr. Yip: There are five important tools any person can use to beat procrastination.
1. You have to really understand and make use of stress and anxiety. We’ve become a society that when we’re feeling the body’s natural fight or flight response, we go into panic mode. It can be useful to learn how to channel that response. If you can channel those feelings toward productive work efforts, and change your perspective, you can utilize that.
2. Remove mental thought traps, or thinking fallacies. This negative self talk causes havoc to our emotional and physical health. Things like: “I should have done that yesterday. I’m too overwhelmed to do anything.” What you’re doing is allowing your anxiety to rise, to be triggered from those negative thoughts. The more negative emotions we experience, the more we engage in behaviors that are not productive. And you’re not going to be motivated. Rather than just saying, “I have a headache right now and can’t get on this project,” make a plan. Go out and take a walk, and in 30 minutes, sit down and get to work. That’s a much more proactive behavior.
3. Break mountains into molehills. Your goal is to be able to plan backwards. Look at what your end goal is, and then strategize as to how you’re going to break it down. For a 20-page paper, make an outline. Figure out what are going to be the sections of that paper. Then the subsections in each of the main sections. Determining the sequential steps, and also the time frames needed to complete each of these steps give you smaller increments that are easily attainable.
4. Schedule your tasks. You need to know exactly when you’re going to complete each part of your blueprint. Minutes can easily slip by if you don’t. With smart phones, you have your calendar right at your fingertips. If there are things that happen in the day that cause you to put off a task, reschedule it right away so it doesn’t get lost in the shuffle.
5. Visualize your success. The reason why it’s so important to feel yourself completing the task, is that it makes it more believable. Your mind has gone through the rehearsal of it already. This is the same tactic most athletes use when they envision themselves on the field. Race car drivers might play an Xbox game to train their brain on where the turns are so that when they are in that moment of the actual race, they’ve got it down. The same thing goes for standardized testing, and why taking practice exams is so useful. You’re training your mind to be in that situation.
CB: So can college students learn to make these anti-procrastination tips work for them?
Dr. Yip: Just like any skill that you gain, you have to practice. This is no different. It’s kind of like you’re doing brain push-ups. Similar to when you’re working out, unless you continue, you’re going to lose those benefits.