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How best to study when your metal health is a challenge


We know that when you have depression, anxiety and other mood related disorders your concentration and motivation can be greatly affected (DeRoma et al 2009).

Get Organised:

Look at the entirety of your semester on one occasion. Break it down into modules and then further into continuous assessment hand-ups and exams. If you have to look at his each time you sit down to study you are likely to feel overwhelmed and this will demotivating you. Using a calendar, input all known due dates of assignments and exams, work back from here to ensure you have enough time to study for and complete each of them. You can then break down each assignment/exam into the different sections etc. so that you have a clear plan and structure to follow each time you begin a study session.


Set a Routine:

Set an agenda for your day to include elements of self-care, exercise, academic work, social connection. Here is a handy template for this.


Be Realistic:

It is important to be realistic in the plan to you set for yourself. If you plan too much and do not complete it, you will be left with a sense of failure and maybe even that it’s pointless. This will only demotivate you and decrease your confidence in your own ability to make progress and get the work done. Being realistic will allow you to have a sense of achievement and will further increase your self-confidence and motivation to continue and make progress (Shimizu, Niiya & Shigemasu, 2016). 


Manage Expectations:

On your good day’s you will be able to focus well and for longer periods, take advantage of these days when they happen. On the difficult days expect less of yourself and celebrate what you can manage.


Work to your Strengths:

If you study best at certain times of the day use this to your advantage.


Build Confidence & Sense of Achievement:

When we feel confident, we can tackle difficult tasks more easily, and are more motivated (Hope, Koestner & Milyavskaya, 2014). If you find certain modules/topics easier, it is a good idea to begin here to increase your confidence and sense of achievement and thus make it easier to continue with the more difficult academic work.


Acknowledge your achievements:

It is always essential to acknowledge what you have managed to do, especially on the days that is more of a struggle. You can also use positive affirmations to help set yourself up in a helpful, confident frame of mind, such as, I am capable of writing this assignment, and I am making progress each day.


Helpful environment:

When you sit down to do academic work, make sure you are in the best possible environment for yourself, ideally sitting at a table, in a quiet room with minimal distraction. Turn off sound/notifications on your phone. If your anxiety really blocks your focus, try doing 20-30 mins of cardio exercise before you begin your work. The cardio exercise will burn off the adrenaline in your system making it more possible to concentrate it also releases the feel-good chemicals into your system improving your mood and therefore your motivation and self-confidence.


An example how this might work in practice:

At the beginning of each study session using your plan as a guide set a realistic agenda for yourself i.e. half a paragraph of an assignment, read one journal for research, study a small section for exam.

Study: 20/30min (this can change depending on your mood/anxiety/ability to concentrate. Aim for 20 mins and increase it if you can manage it (40/50 mins) and decrease it if necessary). Use a watch/clock for time and not your phone. If you have to use your phone make sure all notifications and wifi/mobile data are off so as not to disturb you. If you find yourself drifting in this time encourage yourself to come back to it again e.g. I’ve 5 minutes left, I’ll get another few sentences written.

*NB* On finishing each study session take a moment to acknowledge the work that you completed to build up the sense of progress/achievement and further increase your motivation and self-confidence.

Break: 5 mins (10 if you do 40/50min study session). Allow your brain to switch off by moving more into your body. Go outside, do some jumping jacks, run up and down the stairs, get a drink etc. Do not check your phone.

Study: 20/30 mins. Move onto the next piece of your plan.

Break: 5 mins

Study: 20/30mins, moving onto the next piece of your plan

Longer break: 15/20 mins. Take a bigger break; you can check your phone briefly at this point, return calls, messages etc. Get a snack/drink, move around.

Repeat and then take a longer break, i.e. 1/1.5 hours for lunch.



DeRoma, Virginia M., et al. (2009) "The relationship between depression and college academic performance." College Student Journal, vol. 43, no. 2, 2009, p. 325+. Gale Academic OneFile, Accessed 20 Apr. 2020.

Moto Shimizu, Yu Niiya & Eri Shigemasu (2016) Achievement goals and improvement following failure: moderating roles of self-compassion and contingency of self-worth, Self and Identity, 15:1, 107-115.

Nora Hope, Richard Koestner & Marina Milyavskaya (2014) The Role of Self-Compassion in Goal Pursuit and Well-Being Among University Freshmen, Self and Identity, 13:5, 579-593.