Academic Validation: How to Cope with Academic Pressure

Lexxie Fletcher-Frampton

One feeling that many university students share is the pressure to succeed academically. Students often seek academic validation, meaning that their sense of self-worth is influenced by their academic performance. Lexxie Fletcher-Frampton explores how academic validation can cause a domino effect on mental and physical health, as it becomes easy to lose sight of other important things. 

Those of you just starting here at Nottingham may have recently received your A-Level results, meaning that academic stress is likely already a familiar feeling. It’s possible that students entering their second or final year are already beginning to feel the piling stress that can accompany deadlines and exams. You may have developed your own strategies to help relieve stress throughout your academic journey, but if you find yourself struggling, remember: you are not alone!

Stress due to workload and exams affects many people. The ‘University Student Mental Health Survey 2020’ found that 42.8%  of students reported feeling ‘often’ or ‘always’ worried, and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence recognises academic pressure as a factor in poor student mental health. This shows just how prevalent these feelings are.

Interestingly, feeling some exam stress can be beneficial. Based on Yerkes-Dodson’s inverted-u shaped model of how stress correlates to task performance, too little and too much stress both correlate to worse task performance than an optimal stress point (at the top of the inverted-u shape). Stress can be helpful when it is used as a motivator. If stress levels go past being helpful, this is when it can become overwhelming, and the pursuit for academic validation can impact student mental health in several ways.  

For example, many feel as though their life plan depends on how well they perform academically. This is a heavy burden to shoulder. The uncertainty of the future often causes anxiety which can make it hard for a person to get started on their work because it feels like such an insurmountable task. Alternatively, this pressure can lead a person to overwork themselves and spend every waking moment on their studies.

 You are a person outside of your learning

You Are More Than The Grades You Get

When experiencing these thoughts, it is important to take a step back and remember that regardless of your results, there will always be a way forward. After all, retakes exist for a reason. Even if your results are undesirable, there are ways around it; it doesn’t have to be the end of your academic story. I’m sure most are familiar with Jeremy Clarkson’s annual Results Day tweet emphasising that results don’t have to be the be-all-and-end-all.

A big part of seeking academic validation is internalising your academic performance. For instance, attributing a “bad” grade to mean that you are “stupid” or that a “good” score makes you “smart”.

While grades and percentages can be important at times, it is crucial to remember that they do not define you, and you are a person outside of your learning. Even if your sense of academic validation leads to pride rather than stress, it is important to escape the negative pattern of equating your self-worth to your grade. While still celebrating your accomplishments, try to praise yourself for the qualities (such as persistence and hard work) that led to the result.

How to Cope with Academic Pressure

Time management is key to building a healthy work-life balance. When feeling overwhelmed or anxious about studies, many students overwork themselves. Prioritising work over sleep, diet, and social life can have a negative impact on so many aspects of university life. Planning out your time should make it easier to avoid neglecting other important parts of life. Attending to your mental and physical health will ultimately help your studies, so ensure to leave time for downtime and for fueling yourself properly with a balanced diet and sufficient sleep.

You may find that talking to people about how you are feeling will relieve some tension, and could promote a sense of solidarity between you and your peers

It is also important to plan some time for socialising (you could even invite friends to study with you and cross two things off at once!). Making time to spend time with friends is extremely beneficial, as during periods with heavy workload it can become easy to isolate yourself. If you speak to them about your concerns, some of your peers may even be experiencing similar academic stress. You may find that talking to people about how you are feeling will relieve some tension, and could promote a sense of solidarity between you and your peers about upcoming deadlines.

Another good way to avoid overworking or spending all your time revising is learning techniques for effective study. For example, my personal favourite study tip is creating or finding a clear workspace. I like to go to the library to study so that my room can remain a place of relaxation. It also means I can avoid procrastinating by tidying my room, and spending less time getting started on my work frees up time for other valuable things.

You are on your own journey, so avoid comparing your progress with others

If you are feeling overwhelmed, but don’t feel like you can comfortably talk to anybody, the Nottingham Nightline service offers an anonymous, non-judgmental and confidential space to communicate your feelings.

Protect yourself this academic year by setting realistic attainable goals. Remember that you are human and can only do so much. You are on your own journey, so avoid comparing your progress with others. Be kind to yourself as this year begins. Aim to establish a healthy balance between working hard towards your goals, and taking care of yourself – physically and mentally.

Lexxie Fletcher-Frampton

Featured image courtesy of Elisa Ventur via Unsplash. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image.

For more content including Uni News, Reviews, Entertainment, Lifestyle, Features and so much more, follow us on Twitter and Instagram, and like our Facebook page for more articles and information on how to get involved.

If you just can’t get enough of Lifestyle, like our Facebook as a reader or contributor.


Leave a Reply