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March Madness?

It’s that time of year again. Perhaps the words “march madness” brings basketball brackets to your mind….or, like many of my students, you think of the low-energy, high-stress experience of this late winter-into-spring season. In fact, faculty colleagues and I have recently noted a general malaise around campus: students looking less eager than a month ago, lower levels of classroom participation, and many more assignments gone missing. Midterms are upon us, which adds to the exhausted environment. At home, there is bleary-eyed early-morning backpack prep, as daylight saving time has us rising before the sun yet again. Add to this a health pandemic, full moon, political and economic volatility, and you easily have a true March madness.


What to do as a student in this sluggish and maybe overwhelmed time? What to do as a parent or professor supporting our beloved students? There is no quick fix (if only we could make June come faster). Spring breaks do help bring some much-needed respite, though the relief is temporary. I’d like to offer a few thoughts about my approach to the season:

1. I remind students to get enough sleep. By this point of the semester, the accumulated sleep deprivation takes its toll. Recent research solidifies what we long have known from experience: you do not function as well without proper rest, even if you think you do (because, duh, you can’t tell when you’re half-asleep). Your memory is less effective, your mood is unstable, and your reaction time is reduced. You don’t need an advanced degree in Learning Science to know that these are imperative to doing well as a student! Late nights studying should be the exception, not the rule. If there are more than 2 late nights per week, I tell students and parents to analyze the cause: is it poor time management? Is it an overloaded schedule (trust me, there is such a thing as too many AP classes)? Is it a false belief that burning the candle at both ends is needed to succeed? I encounter ALL of the situations regularly in my teaching and coaching. Analyze and address them asap because prioritizing sleep means maximizing yourself as a student.

2. I remind students to get enough exercise and eat healthy. In my almost 20 years of college teaching, March is exactly when I see students drop from the healthy habits they brought into the semester. They started out with great routines of visiting the gym or going for a daily run with a roommate. But the workload increased, the deadlines got deadlier and suddenly they haven’t lifted a weight or looked at a vegetable since around Valentine’s Day. There have been plenty of times I have told a weary student in my office hours to please go use the treadmill for 20 minutes and then come see me. This always helps and I bet you know the two reasons why: 1) getting the exercise (yay for endorphins) AND 2) hearing a faculty member verbally prioritize physical and mental health (yay for perspective changes). Stop studying for a bit and get on a sweat.

3. I remind students to stop overworking their brains. If they aren’t writing down all their work, they are asking too much of their memory systems. Brains are for making ideas, not carrying them around. By March, students have now had 6-8 weeks of “remembering” what assignments are due; that’s a lot of mental clutter! This constant taxing on the working memory takes a toll on your attention span, your organization, your motivation, and probably your eventual completion of each task. Put that together and stress levels are bound to be high! Researchers call this “overload effects in cognitive functioning.” Around this time of year, when I ask students how they are doing with keeping a planner they often show me pages that are meticulously filled in...for weeks 1-4. Then it dwindles until there are blank pages in--you guessed it--March. So, reducing the dreaded “overload effects” requires getting back to the routine of written task lists, or creating a routine if you never had one. Get my “Playbook on How to Get on Top of Schoolwork” to learn my step-by-step tips to do this.

While these three steps aren’t rocket-science, they are necessary and often overlooked by many students. The madness of March can be best managed by doubling-down efforts to sleep well, be physically and mentally healthy, and stay organized via visual list-making or planner use.

Who knows? Maybe there will be time and energy left over to enjoy some basketball watching, after all.

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