Struggling with depression can be hard enough as it is, but if you’re also trying to do your best in studying, the two things can get in each other’s ways. Feelings of hopelessness, guilt, worthlessness, not being in control are characteristics of depression that can undermine your studying, just like decreased concentration, memory capacity and self-esteem. What’s more, a disappointing prove can “prove” your depressive cognitions and make you feel even worse. Other people might think you don’t have the discipline or the motivation, which only makes you feel worse about yourself.
These are things that I have been struggling with a lot, but in the past two years of university I have found ways to deal with it, and I would like to share these tips with you. Some of them may be useless, because they apply to my situation only (mild to moderate depression, not chronic, university student in the Netherlands) but I am sure some of them apply to all students struggling with depression.
1. Mental health is more important than grades. In my life, a lot of people have told me that school is the most important thing in your life, but it’s not. Education is extremely important, but always prioritise your mental and physical health.
2. Don’t beat yourself up. I have often been angry at myself because I was barely able to study for an entire day. Now I realise that studying just takes a lot more effort othe days depression hits you the worst. There might be days when you can barely get yourself out of bed. If you:
- got out of bed
- read a single page
- did something you genuinely enjoyed
- looked at your planner, or
- made it through the day
I think you have something to be proud of. Know that I am proud of you.
3. Study in short shifts. As I mentioned above, one of the key characteristics of depression is decreased concentration. Tackle this problem by doing small studying shifts with rewarding breaks in between. (For example, use the pomodoro techniqe: 25 minutes studying, 5 minute break.) Another way to deal with this is by finding out when your concentration peaks and do the hardest studying during that time of the day.
4. Planning is key. Planning is important for every student, but for those struggling with depression even more so. It can take you longer to read and memorise the material than average, so plan your revision and reading sessions long before the exam and divide chunks over several days and weeks.
5. Self care. Just like #4, this applies to all, but even more if you struggle with mental health issues. Some things you can do:
- colour in a colouring book
- wash your hair (works wonders for me at times)
- take a 20 minute walk outside (you don’t have to run)
- list 3 things each day you’re grateful for or that went well
- watch a sitcom
- call someone you’re comfortable with and chat
- find one thing in your life that you’re passionate about, however stupid it is, and enjoy with the power of the fucking sun
- sing a song that makes you feel powerful
- (meditations and reading, but I can barely pull these off)
I know and acknowledge that some of these are maintainance activities that you don’t feel able to do when you’re really down. I hope others help you anyway.
6. No allnights. I repeat: NO ALNIGHTERS! This is seriously important. Again, everyone needs sleep, but it is important to know that sleep deprivation usually worsen depression and can even trigger a depressive episode or other mental syndrome. The rule of thumb according to my doctor: sleep before midnight, wake up before 9am.
7. Find different levels of motivation. I think this is a little weird and maybe it’s just me, but I have different ‘goals’ to get myself motivated. On the higher levels, I want to help people and become a psychologist, but at the same time, on the lower levels, I want to get good grades and find the material interesting. If my poor mood makes the high level feel unreachable, I still have the lower levels to count on.
8. See your doctor. Even if you feel your symptoms are subclinical (i.e. “not important/bad/relevant” enough). He or she can help you find a therapist, diagnosis, medication, or just be someone to talk to and vent.
9. Inform the school. Talk about your struggles with a counselor/mentor or someone at your school or institution who can help you. Sometimes, you can get extra time or different exam environments if this helps you perform better. Someone should be aware of your situation.
I hope this helps you. These tips were based on a combination of research and my own experience. If any of these tips help even just one person, I feel like my mission is successful 😉