Tips to work around depression when studying (by Chelsea McNeill)

Chelsea McNeill is a first year law/journalism student at Murdoch University, Western Australia.

Last year I was diagnosed with depression. Although all aspects of my life were affected, my ability and motivation to study declined drastically. I went from a diligent studier to someone who could spend almost entire days in bed or doing trivial tasks to avoid studying. If you’re suffering from depression, you may have noticed a similar pattern and might like to try these tips to work around it.

1. Pace yourself

Panic attacks are a major obstacle to my study. Simply reading a question can send me into hours of panic and tears, which can then make me panic for another couple of hours about wasting study time.

Obviously this isn’t efficient study, but if the chemicals in your brain are out of whack, it’s out your control. What is within your control, though, is preparing for these situations in advance.

If you know or suspect that something might happen to prevent you from studying, it’s a good idea to pace yourself. Consider doing small sections of work consistently rather than big chunks of work just before every due date. That way, if you end up being unable to study the night before an exam due to reasons beyond your control, it won’t matter because you will have already done the work.

2. Make to-do lists and study timetables

If you have three assignments on the go and you’re stressing about all of them, where are you meant to start? I’ll tell you where – writing a list.

When I’m lacking motivation, I always write a to-do list; although it sounds corny, it’s really helpful. Depression clouds your ability to see problems clearly – it jumbles lots issues into one big fur-ball of a problem and spirals downward. Once this happens, it’s extremely hard to problem solve logically. This is when lists come in handy.

Start with broad headings like the name of your assignment or the subject you have a test for, and narrow them down into tiny tasks. When I say tiny, that’s exactly what I mean – when writing an essay, I’ll write one paragraph a day. To make sure I have enough time up my sleeve I make a study timetable. If you can visually see that everything will get done, you’ll be able to fully concentrate on a task without worrying that you need to be doing another.

(If your thoughts are so jumbled that you’re struggling to even write a list, I strongly suggest trying out mindfulness meditation.)

Disclaimer: I am not a professional. Everyone’s experience with depression is unique and these techniques may not work for everyone. If you’re struggling with mental illness I urge you to seek professional support.

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