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December 10, 2015

How to stay motivated and overcome mid-year stress and exhaustion

By this time in the school year, even the most resilient students feel the pressures of mounting responsibility and fatigue. December is a month of considerable stress for students as they gear up for exams, final papers, holidays, and more. As students look ahead toward winter break, many can’t help but slip into the holiday spirit just a little too early. Longing for rest, many students begin to “check out” weeks before vacation begins.

Tired stress

It’s important for students of all ages to seek out strategies and support to maintain focus throughout the month of December. Meeting with an executive function tutor or setting up additional support meetings with teachers can be great ways to prevent the end of semester slide. Your child can also try these strategies, with their tutor or at home, to keep up their morale and performance through the end of the month:

  1. Know your deadlines and what each assignment entails: Some students have final exams before they go away for the holidays. Others simply have their regular tests, papers, and projects. Either way, every student needs to know what is ahead and what to do to get it done. Many students are so entrenched in their daily homework assignments that they don’t carve out time in their schedules to look ahead to future work. So, to help your child succeed this December, look ahead together and gather information about future assignment requirements.
  2. Make detailed, broken-down, attainable plans: The first step to getting these assignments done or staying on track overall is to make a clear plan that is possible to accomplish. Many students procrastinate because they don’t feel capable of completing the towering pile of homework and projects they receive this time of year. So, they postpone the hardship until they have no choice but to complete it. But, when a student maps out small tasks, scheduled over many days or weeks, they are more likely to feel they can get those small things finished on a day-to-day basis. Eventually, small triumphs add up and the hardest assignments DO get finished.
  3. Incorporate Topics of Interest: During weeks when winter break is looming, it is especially important to keep assignments exciting and fresh. Students report that one of the biggest reasons they procrastinate is because they dislike an assignment topic or find it boring. If your child is struggling to stay focused on a boring task, find out whether they can incorporate their own interests or curiosities into their work. Many assignments are open-ended, giving students the ability to pursue topics they enjoy and recharge their dwindling motivation.
  4. Set timers: Getting started on an assignment is often one of the toughest roadblocks for students. However, most unanimously agree that they can work productively for very short spurts of time. Executive function tutors often set timers for a short, agreed-upon period of time, and then have their students work until the timer goes off. The prior planning helps students feel in control of their work, while the timer gives added incentive and accountability. Using a timer also incorporates regular break times, which can refresh tired minds and make the “final push” more possible. Overall, the exercise makes tasks feel feasible and short, which helps your student push past the difficult stage of task initiation.
  5. Block out distractions: Once your child has overcome the initial “getting started” phase, it’s important to help them maintain their momentum. Often, staying invested in schoolwork means minimizing distractions, like television or social media. Staying focused can also mean adhering to a preset homework schedule, using an appropriate study space, or installing an app on the computer that blocks chosen websites for a set amount of time. Remind your children what works best for them and help them to apply strong strategies through the end of the month.
  6. Practice mindfulness and stress management: There is no way to avoid stress this time of year, but there are great ways to manage it. Start by helping your child understand their own unique stress “triggers” and symptoms. Some students know that overpacked schedules stress them out, while others might not notice their heightened anxiety. Some students experience stress in emotional ways, while others feel it through physical symptoms. Regardless of your child’s triggers and symptoms, being mindful of when and how your child feels stressed is the first step toward combatting it. Breaking down assignments and using many of the strategies listed above can minimize stressors drastically, but taking the time for “self-care,” like leisure time with friends and family, can also make significant impacts on your child’s state of mind.
  7. Take productive study breaks: With stress-levels escalating, taking a break can be one of the only ways to stay focused and motivated throughout the end of the semester. Students must understand that their brains and bodies are not invincible, and that rest is a crucial part of every achieving student’s schedule. Most adults can focus for approximately 45 minutes to 1 hour before their performance and attention diminishes. Students can use this statistic as a rule of thumb, scheduling frequent breaks in their homework schedule after half hour or more. Students should use these breaks to get moving, take deep breaths, have healthy meals, and acknowledge progress toward goals, which will all help them to maintain their motivation for weeks to come.
  8. Celebrate both effort and achievement: Finally, parents, teachers, tutors, and even students themselves can incorporate a bit of extra encouragement as the month of December gets underway. Celebrate both effort and achievement, since it will not always be easy for students to fight the December uphill battle. Praising effort means that students will continue to work hard and reward themselves for progress, no matter how small. Praising achievement helps students to acknowledge their accomplishments and set goals to achieve similar ends in the future.

Although December is a stressful month for all, it doesn’t have to be impossible! With the right tools and strategies, your child can support their daily work, organize their exams and projects, break down their work into feasible sections, and motivate themselves to keep going.