Academic Skills for Well-Being
When starting a university course, there are a whole range of new experiences, relationships, challenges and expectations – all of these can affect how happy or stressed you feel as a student. Getting used to this new environment and developing good strategies to deal with the challenges of your course can help make being a student even more enjoyable and can reduce stress when you have assignments or exams to prepare for.
Here, we consider four key elements of being a successful independent learner and how you can achieve a good balance to your study skills to feel in control of your studies and on top of your workload, helping you to be confident and happy as a student.
When using this guide, if you feel like you might need more support with your mental health, jump to details of where to find help.
One of the biggest challenges of university study can be the freedom and expectation on you to manage your time and use your academic skills to achieve the course aims. Different disciplines give you different levels of control; will your course only have a few contact hours with lots of independent study time, or will you have a busy taught timetable with small chunks of independent study slotted in between? Will it be mostly assessed by coursework, mostly by exams, or a mixture? Whatever the format, it will require you to develop your skills to manage and learn the content and then prove your knowledge.
This balancing act can be tricky – you have lots of choice to study when and where you want, you can choose what topics to give the most time, and you can find the revision techniques and writing styles that suit you. But, you also have to conform with the rules and conventions of your discipline.
Too much personal control
Sometimes this freedom can be a bit overwhelming and it can be hard to know where to start and when you have done enough. Having a lot of decisions to make without guidance can lead to a feeling of being disorganised. So how can you gain some personal control over your studies within the rules of your programme?
Too little personal control
On the other hand, you might feel like your course format is restrictive, and you don’t have many opportunities to make your own choices. Sometimes, this can feel like you can’t be creative on your course. Here are a few things you can do to exert control over your experience:
|Goals and Requirements||
Everybody needs goals - these might be long-term hopes and dreams, or short term tasks on your To Do list. Goal setting encourages us to look ahead and see what we want to achieve in the future, working on goals reminds us that we are striving towards something important and gives us a healthy challenge in the present, and when we look back completing and celebrating those goals reminds us of how far we have come since we started. In your degree, a lot of goals will be set for you by other people, which can make them seem more like requirements, but they are all related to the overall goal of achieving your degree.
Feeling overloaded is part of a healthy and successful life - it’s inevitable that occasionally goals will make us feel under pressure. In addition, if goals conflict with each other they can lead to strain, especially if moving towards one goal takes you further away from a different goal.
Too many goals and requirements
Having too many goals can feel like you are trying to juggle too many different balls at once. The effort of focusing on several goals and trying to make progress on them simultaneously can lead to feelings of stress and overload. Goals that seem manageable on their own might now feel too difficult or become a burden when added to all the other things you need to do. This kind of stress is common when more than one coursework deadline or exam date is approaching in a short period of time. How to tackle too many goals and requirements:
Too few goals and requirements
Without goals, it is easy to feel adrift with no way of knowing if you are making any progress. Not having the challenge and motivation of clear goals can lead to underload and boredom. This is more common when working on in-depth projects such as a dissertation or a PhD thesis - the deadline feels a long way away and vague. Some things that might help:
|Contact with Others||
How often we spend time with other people and the quality of those interactions has a big impact on our well-being. During university, there will potentially be several groups of people you interact with - coursemates, academic staff, housemates, family, friends, work colleagues. Spending time in contact with other people - whether it’s online or in person - can enrich the university experience as a chance to positively support others and be supported ourselves and is fantastic for well-being. Sharing the challenges with others can reduce feelings of isolation and build a sense of community where everyone is trying to learn something new whilst enjoying everything university has to offer.
Contact with academic staff and coursemates is a chance to clarify and discuss your subject, family and friends might give you tips on their experience in education, and when you need it, spending time with people socially can help to switch off from deadlines and just relax. Spending a lot of time alone can make it more difficult to judge how well you are doing compared to other people and lead to feeling disconnected, whereas spending too much time with other people, can be distracting, can be a drain on your time, and in some cases can spread stress and worry without helping to tackle them, so where is the balance here?
Too much contact with other people
Sometimes you might just want to be left alone! When we’re looking for that balance of contact with others, too much contact can be overwhelming. Maybe you are trying to get some advice about your course but each of your friends has a different answer, or maybe you know you should be studying but you are procrastinating by browsing social media. Whatever the cause, if you feel like you need to reduce your social interaction, here are some ideas:
Too little contact with other people
Everyone is different - like all of these areas, you only have to find the right balance for you and your well-being. If you prefer your own company and that makes you happy then you don’t need to change anything. Arriving at university can feel like a lonely experience until you get settled, so if you decide you want to spend more time with people these are some things to try:
|Skills Use and Development||
University is a hotbed of opportunities to use and develop your skills. Whether it’s specific technical skills you need in order to go into a certain career, or general life skills that come from leaving home and looking after yourself. Your skills are being tested and refined all the time. Skills equip us for challenges in the future, protecting us from stress in both the short and the longer term.
When you make the transition into a new university course, the skills that you have from previous education might not perfectly match your current needs. This is totally normal - if you already had all the skills you needed, you wouldn’t still be in education! When our skills match the task at hand we can feel good about doing something well. The optimum for most people is to have some easy and routine tasks that can be quickly completed mixed with some more difficult tasks which stretch and challenge us. However, when we feel like our skills are not equal to a hard task, or that our skills are being wasted on easy tasks this can affect satisfaction with academic progress. So how do we find that balance?
Too many skills going to waste
Before starting your course, you will have developed lots of skills from previous education, work, hobbies and life in general. Some of these skills might not play such a big part in university life and when you are used to using them a lot this can be frustrating and some people worry that these skills will get rusty. Here are some suggestions when you feel overskilled:
Too few skills
Starting a new course is a big change and it’s ok to feel your skills need a boost to help with your studies. The good news is you are reading this guide from The Academic Skills Centre and skills are our thing! Remember that your course is a learning journey and it is expected that you will build your knowledge and skills over time. Read on for our suggestions on building your skills.
Mental Health Support
|Student Wellbeing Service||
Student Wellbeing Service offers single session (40-minute) appointment with the Wellbeing Advisor in your faculty.
Student Access to Mental Health Support (SAMHS)
Student Access to Mental Health Support (SAMHS) is a single point of contact for students at all levels to access psychological support.
|University Health Service||
You can speak to your GP at the University’s Health Service, (or the local GP practice where you are registered).
|Sheffield Nightline and The Samaritans|
If you are in crisis: SSiD
In the event of an emergency or if you are in crisis, please visit the SSiD Emergency Contacts pages.
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