Stop stressing over writers block: tips for finals week

By James Kneblik, Jr.

Those looming finals and procrastinated projects are only a week away, followed by the completion of another semester. Students balancing classes, work and social life can easily fall prey to heavy stress and dangerous study habits.

The counseling center at USF St. Petersburg and USF Tampa are providing proactive support for students needing to bring their life back to order.

Rick Temple, Ph.D., at the Counseling Center for Human Development at USF spoke to students recently about stress management, offering guidance to navigate their busy and demanding lifestyle.

Temple said a student’s demanding life can easily become overwhelming, but whether or not this becomes a “serious problem” is how the student manages the stress.

“Too much stress can negatively impact a person in many ways, from physiological symptoms like headaches and illness to emotional distress like anger, sadness and discouragement,” Temple said.

What students really need to develop, explained Temple, is a lifestyle that incorporates healthy stress management. This includes not abusing substances, getting enough sleep, eating well and getting frequent doses of recreational activity. He explained how another important part of managing life’s demands is encouraging yourself rather than being overly critical.

“When stressors build, realize you have resources to cope and find others to help as needed. Instead of feeling defeated and giving up, figure out what to do about the stressors,” Temple said. “You have faced stress in the past and overcome it; you can find ways of doing it now.”

“Be sure you don’t add to your stress level by taking on too much,” Temple said.

Another lecture recently offered by the counseling center was entitled, “Overcoming Writer’s Block.” The talk was given by Belinda Seiger, Ph.D, licensed clinical social worker. A part-time therapist at the Tampa campus, Seiger offered guidance for students hammering out those final papers of the semester.

Writer’s block is often caused by students having unrealistic expectations, and not accepting ones own writing style, Seiger explained. “If you’re a procrastinator, honor that,” she said.

Sometimes a student must embrace an environment that helps them perform, even if it means working under pressure. Seiger said a lot of people process what they are going to write before they actually begin and that is part of the writing process.

According to Seiger, there are three major myths, that contribute to writers block: believing that great writers never struggle with their work, that writing must seem easy or enjoyable at all times and trying edit while writing.

Debunking these myths is necessary to write at your highest potential. Seiger offered five major tips to become a great and efficient writer:

Number one: Know your work style. Where and when the student works best is very important to generating the best results.

Number two: Put your inner editor aside until after a significant amount of writing. “If you edit while you’re writing, you’re basically thwarting your creative process,” Seiger said. “You may never get started if you keep editing.”

Number three: Think out of the box. “You don’t always have to start at the beginning,” said Seiger, who suggested starting at the middle or end in many situations.

Number four: Learn how to brainstorm before you start writing. This can take place by making bullet points or bubbles of ideas, but one doesn’t necessarily need to start the writing process to get organized.

Number five: Limit perfectionism. “Having high expectations is great, but it doesn’t have to be the next great American novel or an award winning paper,” Seiger said. “Strive for realistic expectations.”

Many students may not think they battle with writer’s block. Seiger, holding a Ph.D., said achieving her education meant doing a lot of writing and having a lot of writer’s block to overcome.

True writer’s block is an ongoing inability to write, Seiger said most students don’t have that luxury. “Many students don’t have official writers block, they just get in their own way,” Seiger said.

When the assignment is due the next day, it must get done. “Every writing project has a beginning, middle and end, and eventually you will get there,” Seiger said.

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