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How to stay relaxed while you are studying

It should be obvious that if you want to have a productive study or work session, you need your mind, body and surroundings to be in an optimal state. It's surprising, however, how often these three key elements are either ignored or treated as nice but unessential extras. If your mind, body or surroundings are less than ideal, your ability to concentrate well may be reduced, as will your ability to learn and retain information. In other words, the more you can do to increase your mental and physical wellbeing along with having a good place to learn, the better your studies are likely to be! Let's look at what you can do for your mind, body and environment to help you learn and work better: Mental wellbeing You simply cannot study well if you are tired, stressed or anxious. All of these will impact on your ability to think and process information. Here are three easy ways to make sure you remain mentally alert and refreshed through your study time:

  1. Take regular breaks. I am always astonished by the way people expect themselves to be able to study or work for seven or eight hours without any real break! The human mind is not designed to sit down for hours at a time, hunched over a computer. Doing this is incredibly bad for our physical health and also for our mental alertness. At the very least, you want to be taking a ten-minute break for every hour of study. Oh, and a ten-minute break doesn't mean ten minutes sitting in the same position but looking at cute kittens on YouTube. A ten-minute break means hydration, stretching and a complete change of scene! Get up and move!

  2. Another great way to maintain focus is to take mini-breaks throughout an hour of work. A mini-break could be any of the following:

    • counting five breaths in and out with your eyes closed

    • 10 seconds of stretching while at your desk

    • looking out of the window for 1o seconds

I aim to take a mini-break every twenty minutes of work to keep my mind fresh and alert and often set a timer to remind me.

3. If you tend to get distracted, perhaps by those cute kittens on YouTube, I highly recommend using Focusmate. This great tool is free for three sessions per week, and $5 / month afterwards. Focusmate connects you with others who have work to do; you meet on the platform and work on your tasks in silence for 50 or 25 minutes. It's a real productivity booster that I think everyone should utilise!

Physical wellbeing

Although physical wellbeing may not seem to be connected to learning a language, in my view it is very important. When I was teaching in language schools, I used to find the posture and behaviour of my students quite alarming at times - they would be slumped in their chairs, or surviving on coffee and cigarettes after a big night out. There's nothing wrong with having fun, of course, but if you want to make the most out of your studying time, you need to make sure your physical needs are met.

  1. Keep hydrated. Being hydrated means having enough liquid in your body and being even slightly dehydrated has been shown to negatively affect our ability to concentrate. In order to stay sufficiently hydrated, you need to drink water or herbal tea; unfortunately coffee and soft drinks like Coke don't count! I personally aim to drink around 2 litres of water each day and always have water when I am working. It's best to take regular sips rather than a big glass all at once.

  2. Get enough sleep. There's a brilliant quote in my favourite book that simply says: Tired is stupid. There is a lot of truth to this! Yes, you may be able to have another coffee and keep going a bit more, but at what cost? Like dehydration, tiredness has a big impact on your ability to focus and even to make decisions! If you are tired, take a rest and come back when you are more refreshed.

  3. Make sure you get regular exercise. Our bodies are designed for movement, not for sitting. In the modern world, it's easy to spend all day sat in chairs or in cars and our bodies suffer because of this. When we exercise, we get a dose of positive chemicals and a big boost of energy! In fact, exercise is thought to be the best way to improve your concentration! Personally, I like to go for a run if I need more energy or a do bit of yoga if I am feeling stiff.

Environmental wellbeing

Finally, the environment where you study should be comfortable. Ideally, you would have a desk or table and are not studying on your bed as this causes poor posture and physical discomfort. Your room or study space needs to be quiet so that you won't be distracted and the light should be good enough to see! Even better would be to make sure that your chair and desk are set to the right height for you so that you are able to sit comfortably! I now have an osteopathic cushion which has made a huge difference as the chair I have is very old and not very comfortable any more. By considering these aspects and incorporating them into your life and study, you should find that you have better focus and are able to work more efficiently!

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