Wellbeing, Coping, Ability to study, Relaxation, Stress

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Freedom is often mentioned as a positive aspect of the student life. With an increase in studying from home and remote teaching, students now take on even more responsibility in planning and scheduling their studies. How great it is that you can plan your own schedule, right?

Yet, you might feel like you can never get away from course work. You’re expected to listen to lectures during the day and write essays, participate in group assignments, and review your course work to prepare for exams in the evenings. Unfinished course work may be constantly present in your head, but still, it’s hard to get it done. The idea of not having finished all your assignments keeps creeping into your thoughts even when you’re supposed to not think about your studies for a bit. So, is it impossible to take your mind off your studies?

Psychological Detachment

It’s possible to separate your studies and free time through psychological detachment—the ability to create distance between you and your stressful thoughts. In simple terms, psychological detachment means seizing to think or worrying less about things that burden your mind. The process could be described as “emptying your mind” or “resetting your head”.

Psychological detachment is necessary, for example, when transitioning from your studying mode to your free time mode, but it can also be used to practice tolerating unfinished tasks. Detaching psychologically from your daily duties, even for a moment, helps the brain recover and gives the nervous system its much-needed recovery break. At its core, it’s a way to recharge the batteries in your body and mind.

What Happens in the Body?

A constant state of alertness prevents the brain from recovering. At its worst, it can lead to exhaustion, but even mild cases of constantly working on tasks that take a lot of focus will start to impair the ability to concentrate and to momentarily function near peak performance.

Another common factor in modern student life and work life is multitasking, meaning the act of working on several things at the same time or side by side. If this approach is maintained for a long time, it will overload the brain, cause restlessness, and dull the ability to focus.

As a matter of fact, moments of recovery are as important to the brain as practice and learning. If we can’t relax, we can’t perform to our true capabilities when it’s needed. Our performance with every task becomes even—we may not do poorly, but we won’t excel either, no matter how hard we study.

As we learn effective ways to detach psychologically, our ability to focus improves, and we can work efficiently in the moment.

Constant worrying about studies or work causes a state of heightened alertness in the body and puts the body into a state of emergency. In this hyperactive state, you may first feel like you’re tackling your assignments especially well, as the rise in stress hormone levels leads to increased alertness.

However, hyperactivity will start to feel like a burden in the long run: your heart rate might be unusually high, you get headaches, your muscles are tense—especially in your neck and shoulders—you sweat a lot, and it’s hard to stay still. At some point, the body will get tired, which may result in typical hypoactivity symptoms, such as dizziness, inability to focus, absent-mindedness, fatigue, and exhaustion.

How Can We Detach From Our Studies?

Different people have different ways to relax because our ideas of what’s interesting or soothing are not the same. Physical exercise, meeting friends, music, arts and crafts, and other hobbies are good ways to counter-balance daily studies. The most important factor in choosing a suitable relaxation method is that it works for you and is easily available.

It’s often useful to find opposing states when trying to relax. If you’ve just completed an intense study session, some light exercise might be a good way to recover, instead of reading an intellectual crime novel that takes a lot of focus.

A few things to remember when seeking psychological detachment:

  1. Regularity

In the best case scenario, you’ll find relaxation daily so that you’ll build a routine around your moments of recovery. A routine will also help you access a relaxed state faster because your body will learn to calm down and take a break.

  1. Even short breaks are useful

It’s enough to take 10 minutes to relax. Try to avoid a mindset of “I can’t spare 30 minutes for relaxation today, so it’s no use taking a shorter break.” Short micro breaks are an extremely important part of recovery.

  1. Relaxation can be active

You can recover while actively doing something, for example, when having coffee with friends and sharing a few laughs over what happened that day. You don’t necessarily have to be alone in a quiet room and meditating in order to calm down.

Calming Down Through Mindfulness Exercises

Calming your body down through mindfulness can be very beneficial, for example, when you have a hard time stopping to live in the moment and you feel like your mind is constantly jumping to all those looming deadlines. Mindfulness practice can also be a way to calm your body down at night if you keep thinking about course work when trying to fall asleep.

Your body is living in the present moment even if your mind aims to wander off. Therefore, refocusing on bodily sensations can be helpful when trying to seize the moment.

Here are two mindfulness exercises that you can try as new ways to calm down. Feel free to vary the length of these exercises to fit your day.

  1. Focusing on your breathing

Sit on a chair with your soles steadily on the ground. Place your hands on your thighs. You can also do this exercise lying down if you’d prefer it. You may have your eyes open or closed. It’s often easier to focus with your eyes closed because all visual stimuli are cut off.

Inhale and exhale at your natural pace. During this exercise, you’re allowed to be tense and restless. You don’t have to relax. Examine what’s going on in your abdominal area, chest, and sides. Where do you feel the air moving?

The idea is to observe and recognize your breathing. If you notice tension or aches in your body, simply recognize the sensation without judgment and get back to monitoring your breathing. Continue the exercise for a few more breaths.

  1. Self-massage

Sit down on a chair or on the floor, and find a comfortable position. Close your eyes. Start the exercise with your toes. Rub, squeeze, and caress them. Be mindful of how each touch feels.

Then move on to touch your ankles, legs, knees, thighs, abdomen, lower back, shoulders, chest, and arms. Also feel around your neck and the nape of your neck, as well as your ears and face.

After you’ve gone over the whole body, sit still for a moment, and observe what sensations are happening all over your body.

Some final words

Detaching from daily duties may feel challenging. Especially before you’ve established a routine, you may need to remind yourself several times about the importance of these moments of relaxation. Your body will also need a bit of time to calm down, but through regular practice, it’ll become easier to access a state of relaxation.

A daily moment of relaxation is a choice we can all make. You have the option of doing a good thing to yourself. So, why wouldn’t you? After all, you’re the most important person in your life!

I wish the best of luck, strength, and wellbeing this fall to all students and student-minded readers!

Tuuli Latvala


Kehon Äärellä -bloggaaja, terveystieteiden maisteri ja fysioterapeutti. Kehon ja mielen vuorovaikutuksen pohdiskelija sekä hetkeen pysähtymisen puolestapuhuja.

Kehon Äärellä-bloggare, magister i hälsovetenskaper och fysioterapeut. Intresserar sig för samspelet mellan kropp och själ och talar för närvaro i nuet.

Kehon äärellä blogger, master of health sciences, and physical therapist. A ponderer of the mind-body connection and an advocate for stopping to take in the moment.

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