Study and stress: Get the balance right

Today we continue our series for exam students and parents. ALAN WHITE, second level teacher and Wellbeing Author, looks at study and stress and offers solutions on how to tackle it
Study and stress: Get the balance right

“It can be challenging to get the balance right between stress and distress.” Picture:Stock

OVER the last couple of days I have looked at how students can become motivated and organised. Today I will look at study techniques and stress and the importance of getting the balance right.

At this point in the year some students are putting in long hours of study while some others are procrastinating and finding it difficult to get started at all. It’s difficult to get the balance right and both of the above scenarios can create a lot of stress for students and their families.

When it comes to study its quality over quantity. Over the years I have met many students who told me they are doing three or four hours of study per night. When I ask them how they are studying and how much they remember, the answer is often that they read their text book and find it hard to remember anything at all. Study technique that allows time for both revision and active learning methodologies is key to successful study and there are methods to suit both the over studier and the procrastinator.


This method is ideal for students who spend long hours studying but lack a focus to their revision. Students break their time down into 25 minute blocks. Within this time they allow time to revise their planned topic as well as time to practice answering a question. This allows the student to reinforce what they have learned and practice questions under timed exam conditions. After 25 minutes students take a 5 minute break to move around, relax or have a snack.


More often than not the students I meet are the ones who find it difficult to study at all.

This can be very distressing for the student as they are very aware of time going by and the amount of work they need to get done, but for whatever reason can’t get started. In this scenario I ask the student to do one hour of study five days a week to begin with. They then break this hour down into three twenty minute slots. Beginning with a subject they like, then working on a subject they find difficult and finally going back to a subject they don’t mind.

Each twenty minute slot is then used for ten minutes of revision and ten minutes active learning such as answering an exam question or solving a maths problem. The idea here is that ten minutes is a very short space of time and regularly changing the focus of what you are doing will help the time go by more quickly. This will allow the student to feel that they are making progress while also building their concentration levels. Over time as the student becomes more confident they can study for longer and more productive periods of time.


There is no doubt that study and exams are synonymous with stress. Effective revision relies on managing stress and learning to identify signs of too much stress or distress. The first thing to remember is that not all stress is bad. Some stress is actually good for us. It is a signal that there are tasks that we need to do, it can help us to become motivated and helps us focus on our goals. Positive stress makes us feel more productive, in control of our emotions and allows us to build on our successes. Its only when stress becomes too much that we become distressed.

Distress is stress that has physical, cognitive and emotional consequences and has a very negative impact on our lives. Students who have not studied or procrastinated will feel distressed. Conversely, students who have over studied at the cost of their personal wellbeing will also experience distress.


Distress is recognisable in a physical sense by getting frequent headaches, aches and pains and frequent illnesses. Emotionally stress presents itself through irritability, felling overwhelmed, having sudden angry outbursts and feeling impatient with family and friends.

Cognitively, distressed students find it hard to concentrate, feel unmotivated and unfocused. Behaviourally, students will express negative stress by over or under eating, drinking or overusing technology to distract themselves.


It can be challenging to get the balance between stress and distress right but there are things that students can do to ensure that they don’t become over stressed. As I mentioned in yesterday’s article, being organised gives a sense of control and can reduce negative stress. Self-care and down time should be included in weekly study plans and needs to be prioritised during particularly busy times. Asking for help when needed is also very important.

I always tell students that the Leaving Cert or Junior Cert is important but your health and wellbeing is more important. Students must strive to keep a balance. Doing too much or too little will equally create distress In tomorrow’s article I will look at different ways that students can take care of their mental and wellbeing over the coming months. Remember, a certain amount of stress is needed for success but too much will almost certainly hinder it.


Alan White is a second level teacher at Bishopstown Community School and Wellbeing Author. He also facilitates wellbeing workshops for companies and organisations. For more information visit linkedin Alan White or facebook Changes Wellbeing.

You can also read the rest of Alan’s series online at

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