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Mental Health and Homework

By Kyra Alvarez for The Due Influence

It’s easy to say “screw this!” and throw your study books across the room. Although homework is supposed to be supplemental work to the learning done in school, it can be a perceived as added stress. Most people know what it’s like to be presented with an assignment, and have that dreaded feeling of anxiety and feeling overwhelmed about the work that lies ahead. You're basically short of breath, before you even start climbing the mountain. Mental health issues can intensify the normal stressors of school.

How do mental health issues create a barrier for students?

Mental health illnesses like depression and anxiety can rob a student of the basic tools for success in school. Energy can be zapped with very little physical work, since the mind has strained the students resources; motivation can be low, and the belief in self is severely affected. You're at a loss, from the get-go.

Depression is an illness that drains a person of motivation, love for their passions, affects sleep, and creates distorted thinking processes. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5), Depression causes feelings of sadness and/or a loss of interest in activities once enjoyed. It can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems and can decrease a person’s ability to function at work and at home” (DSM-V). Depression can be coupled with anxiety, or vice versa. The DSM-V defines Generalized Anxiety Disorder or GAD as the presence of excessive anxiety and worry about a variety of topics, events, or activities, and the worry is very hard to shift or control. Other symptoms such as edginess, restlessness, impaired concentration, irritability, and trouble sleeping can all be symptoms of GAD.

Students with either depression, anxiety, or both, tend to have a harder time completing assignments, have a hard time focusing, or the desire to complete a task may suddenly shift. Procrastination is very common, which can keep a student into a vicious cycle of incomplete assignments and added anxiety, stress, and feelings of failure. It's important to recognize these symptoms of mental health illnesses, and get treatment and proper support in order to promote student's success.

What can be done to overcome mental health issues?

Sitting at a desk and staring at an empty paper can be draining as it is. The task at hand may seem bigger than it is. To break out of this pattern, simply break down the task into bullet points. This will set the tone for the rest of your assignment, plus it can organize what needs to be done. Having something on paper will alleviate some anxiety of looming deadlines, and give a sense of accomplishment. Though it doesn’t mean the assignment is finished, a start can give a sense of encouragement.

It’s also important to take frequent breaks, perhaps every forty minutes. These are meant for a recharge, not to become unfocused. It might be helpful to avoid technology, so the least amount of stimuli is present. Remember, the body is under more stress than usual with a mental health illness. Being extra mindful and caring can promote good energy. The warmth of a bath can calm the mind, or even cooking lunch. Writing your feelings in a journal, and keeping track of your progress is helpful. Identify your favorite hobbies, and engage in them more than usual. Your body will thank you for it.

Using grounding techniques, such as holding an ice cube in your hand for a few seconds, can help the mind focus on the sensation. Once the ice cube is released, imagine stress melting away from your hands. This imagery can provide a calming sensation throughout the whole body. Pulling yourself back to the physical world can jump-start your system into getting work done. It can also relieve tension you hold in other parts of your body, and center the tension in one area.

If all else fails, then stop your work! Come back to it in a few hours, or even the next day. Depression and anxiety are not easy to deal with, so the body needs to rest. Come back to the assignment in a few hours, or even the next day. Sometimes, all you need is time to get an assignment done.

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