Take a Break

With Summative Assessment season upon us, it’s important to remember to  keep things balanced and to take regular breaks.


It may sound counter-intuitive when you have submission dates piling up and exams to study for, but studies show that when we work / study for hours on end on the same task, with no breaks, our brain slowly starts to switch off  and no longer registers what we are doing (you can read more about it here). Taking regular breaks from studying, or working on an assignment, allows your mind to refocus and improves attention. The trick however, lies in selecting the correct type of activity for your study / work break so that you return to your task focused and refreshed.

How Long Should You Be Studying / Working For?

The general consensus appears to be:

  • Study / work for 50 – 90 minutes with a 10 minute break in between sessions.


  • And to take a slightly longer break after every 2 to 3 sessions.


“Good” Study / Work Breaks

Different activities work for different people. The point is to decide on an activity that will help refresh you and that makes the transition back to work / studying easy.  Also, a “good” break is one that isn’t able to morph into a procrastination tactic.

The simplest way to manage your breaks (and even your study / work sessions) is by setting a timer – when the timer goes, the break is over.

Good, reinvigorating breaks include:

  • Moving away from the screen / book / desk – sitting in the same position for hours on end is no good for you, especially if you are hunched up with tension and anxious about what you are working on. Get up and stretch, move around, get your blood flowing and your eyes moving and focusing on different things. Even better, go for a 10 minute walk outside – the fresh air will help clear your mind and re-energize you for your next session.
  • Chitter-chatter – you’ve been “in the zone” for the past 50 – 90 minutes, phone a friend or find someone to have a quick (emphasis on “quick“) chat with. It will help you change your focus and feel connected again.
  • Dance, draw, doodle – do something creative and fun for 10 minutes. Dancing can boost your energy and lift your mood. Colouring in (yes, with crayons or pencils) is a wonderfully relaxing way to clear your mind and get your focus back.
  • Eat – whether it’s a quick snack (during your 10 minute break) or a light lunch (during your 30 minute break), the low efficiency activity of putting together a light and healthy snack or meal not only allows your mind to focus on something else, but refuels your body and improves your mindset.

What Not to Do

Just like the right type of break can energize you, the wrong type of break can result in unplanned detours and distractions that make it hard to get back to work and full focus.

Things to avoid include:

  • TV / Computer Games / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram / Snapchat / WhatsApp / E-mail – Rule of thumb: if it has a screen, avoid it. None of these activities boost productivity or focus; what they do do is leave you feeling more tired, wound up and distracted than before. Unless you are done studying or working for the day, or self-discipline is your secret super power, don’t use any of these as your downtime break activity.
  • Catch some Zzzzz’s – Taking a nap can actually be counter-productive to your work / study schedule; more often than not it leaves you feeling more tired and less inclined to want to get back to work. Instead, aim for a solid 8 – 9 hours uninterrupted sleep a night and if you absolutely have to take a nap during the day, ensure that it is not longer than 20 minutes.
  • Quick fix – A take-away pizza (junk food) and super sized energy drink (caffeine) may make for a quick meal break and energy boost, but that is exactly what they are…quick. Neither offer sustained energy or benefit, instead resulting in your blood sugar spiking and then crashing, leaving you feeling flat and tired.


How to Take a Study Break. (2015).  Retrieved from: https://www.brainscape.com/blog/2011/06/study-break/ [Accessed on: 14 October 2016].

Hoyt, E. (2016). Energizing Study Break Ideas & What to Avoid. Retrieved from: http://www.fastweb.com/student-life/articles/energizing-study-break-ideas-what-to-avoid [Accessed on: 14 October 2016].

Nauert, R. (2011). Taking Breaks Found to Improve Attention. Retrieved from: https://psychcentral.com/news/2011/02/09/taking-breaks-found-to-improve-attention/23329.html [Accessed on: 14 October 2016].

You’ve Been Taking Breaks All Wrong. Here’s How To Do It Right. (2013). Retrieved from: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/12/19/youve-been-taking-breaks-_n_4453448.html [Accessed on: 14 October 2016].


Exam Prep First Aid – Quick Links


Below are a list of quick links to posts that will help you during exam prep season:

(*Click on the title and it will take you to the post)

Assessment First Aid – Quick Links

Assessment First Aid

Below are a list of quick links to posts that will help you during assessment season:

(*Click on the title and it will take you to the post)


Dealing With Setbacks

At some point in life we all experience failure or disappointment. A failing grade, a missed promotion, an avoidable mistake; it’s not important what the setback is but rather how you handle and move on from it.


Here are some tips to help you persevere when things go wrong.

1. Step back, reflect and re-group

When faced with a setback often times our first reaction is to rant and rave about how unfair life / our boss / our lecturer is. This type of reaction achieves nothing, changes nothing and if anything ends up making us feel worse.

Instead (and you may need to consciously instruct yourself here) take a step back and look at the situation as objectively as you can at that moment. Ask yourself:

  • What part of this am I responsible for?
  • What part of my approach was not successful?
  • Is this a major setback or will it just require some additional effort and / or time that I had not planned on?
  • Looking back on this setback in five years time, will it have totally derailed my plans or will it be a bump in the road?

When re-grouping, your aim is to do so in a productive and positive manner. Gather all the information you can on what or where you went wrong and then consider different options or ways of approaching the same situation.

2. Don’t dwell on it

Reflecting on something in order to understand it and avoid repeating the same mistake is a positive and proactive way of dealing with a setback. However, playing the “what if / if only” game merely results in you digging yourself an unproductive, self-pitting hole of negativity and guilt.

The setback has happened, it has happened for a reason, and the next, most rational step is to acknowledge the mistake or reason,  learn from it and move on.

3. Talk to someone

Finding someone to discuss your disappoint, concerns and feelings about the situation can be very helpful to both your state of mind and overall well-being. They may not be able to do anything to change the situation, but having someone to discuss it with, bounce ideas off of or just tell you that it is going to be okay can help you put things back into perspective.

It’s probably a good idea to avoid friends or family who will lecture you or lay on a guilt trip; or those who may encourage your outrage and help you create a mountain out of a molehill. What would be helpful is to forewarn your friend, or person who you decide to talk to, that what you need is an ear to listen, a shoulder to cry on, a cheerleader on your side and then a push in the right direction.

4. Stay positive

“Success is not built on success. It’s built on failure. It’s built on frustration. Sometimes it’s built on catastrophe.” – Sumner Redstone

This may be the last thing you want to hear but you need to get up, dust yourself off and persevere. Something you may be even less interested in hearing is that positivity is the foundation  for every form of success. Disappointment, disgust, negativity and self-pity are natural emotions following a setback, but the sooner you can bring positivity and light back into your life, the quicker your life will get back on track.

Try doing one positive thing every day. What brings you joy and makes you happy? – cooking, exercising, listening to music, playing with your child. Consciously build positivity into your schedule and watch it spread throughout everything you do.


Bagnall, B. (2016). 5 ways to stay motivated when you experience setbacks. Retrieved from: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/brian-bagnall/5-ways-to-stay-motivated-_1_b_10664424.html [Accessed on: 03 October 2016].

Noelcke, L. (2008). How to deal with setbacks: Bounce back from life’s hurdles. Retrieved from:  http://www.sparkpeople.com/resource/motivation_articles.asp?id=113 [Accessed on: 03 October 2016].

Sun, C. (2010). 10 ways to deal with setbacks. Retrieved from:  http://www.techrepublic.com/blog/10-things/10-ways-to-deal-with-setbacks/ [Accessed on: 03 October 2016].


FOCUS ON: Grief and Coping with Loss

How you cope with the loss of a loved one is a personal  experience, unique to each person. Despite what the media may portray or what theorists may write, there is no “recipe” or “map” to follow when it comes to grieving. 

Three candles on dark background

There is no right or wrong way of coping with a death. There are however, a variety of factors which may impact the grief process a person goes through following the death of a loved one, these include:

  • your personality
  • the amount of support you have
  • your cultural and religious background
  • your coping skills and mental health history
  • the relationship you had with the person who died
Grief: The normal process of reacting to a loss.

Bereavement: The period following a loss, during which grief is experienced and mourning occurs.

Mourning: They process by which a person adapts to a loss, and is often times influenced by cultural customs, rituals, and societal rules for coping with loss.

Mad with Grief

For those who have never experienced a significant loss this may sound odd, but it is important for those who are grieving to know:

  • Grief is chaotic
  • You are not going crazy
  • What you are experiencing is normal
  • It may feel like everything is out of control but it is temporary and you will be okay

Common or “normal” grief reactions include: disbelief, shock, anger, denial and numbness combined with a variety of intense emotions, resulting in all sorts of moods and reactions that impact differently on different parts of your life. See what I mean when I say that grief is chaotic?

Grief is most often expressed through crying, feelings of intense sadness and a longing for the deceased. These and other reactions vary in intensity and duration – no two people ever grieve the same; and so when in the midst of grieving, it is helpful to know and to remember that what you are experiencing is normal.

It is only when these grief reactions remain unchanged in their intensity for a prolonged period of time and as such, prevent you from carrying on with normal life, that they begin to be viewed as abnormal and destructive.

Myths about Grief

1. Phases of grief

As a result of the work of popular grief theorists, such as Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and J William Worden, there is the widely held misconception that following a loss those left behind need to work through a fixed set of tasks (Worden’s “Tasks of Mourning“) or stages (Kubler-Ross’s “Five Stages of Loss“). The truth of the matter is there are no studies to validate these grief tasks / stages. What we do know for sure is that grief never follows the same path, it differs from person-to-person in both pace and manner.

2. There is a time limit on grief

Sorry, but no. With time your grief may become more manageable or may feel different, but it is something you will carry with you forever. This may sound depressing and morbid but it really isn’t – if you think about it, you’ve lost someone you love deeply and you will carry that person and loss with you in some form always.

3. If you aren’t crying, then you’re doing it wrong

Really? There are 1000s of ways of expressing and feeling ones grief and crying is just one of them. Some people are criers and others are not – there’s nothing wrong with either of them.

4. You need to: move on / get over it / find closure

There is no final destination or endpoint with grief. Grief is not like attending a course that you endure for X amount of months and then on Y date you finally get to graduate and move on. Rather, grief is something you learn to carry with you in a healthy and meaningful way while you move forward with your life.

5. Your grief is different / less if the person who died was: old / suffering / you knew they were going to die

Grief is grief regardless of how the loss was experienced. No-ones grief is bigger or better or deeper rather, each person’s experience is their own and cannot and should not be compared to anothers.

6. You look okay on the outside, so you must be okay on the inside

Perhaps the most difficult thing about grief is that you carry it with you while carrying on with your normal life. Unfortunately in today’s “modern” world there is little time or space for people to mourn and grieve; there are demands on your time and life that you are expected to return to as soon as possible. So just because a person looks okay following the loss of a loved one, don’t make the assumption that they are feeling okay.

7. S/he wouldn’t want you to be sad

This has got to be one of the most annoying things to say to a person who is grieving, together with: s/he is in a better place; at least they didn’t suffer; this too shall pass; what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger; you are never given more than you can handle – the list is endless!

Grief Reactions

As already mentioned, grief phase theory is not supported by research however, what is generally agreed on are the reactions most people experience when dealing with a loss. What is important to remember here is that the reactions noted below are not always experienced by everyone, are not a blueprint for “how to grieve”, are not about working through and mastering.

  • Shock – this generally follows immediately after the death.
  • Reaction – comes when you start absorbing and processing what has happened.
  • Re-orientation – gradually return back to life’s duties

It is, once again, generally agreed that, for many, a way of adapting to and coping with a loss is by moving between the three points, alternating between addressing the loss and avoiding things that recall it.

Support After a Loss

For some grieving is an intensely personal and private thing, while others may actively seek out the support and company of others to help them through it. As already mentioned, there is no right or wrong when it comes to grieving. Sources of support you may want to consider following a loss include:

Family and friends – Often your friends and family want to help but don’t know how – tell them what you need, whether it’s just someone to talk to or someone to help with the growing mound of dirty washing.

Faith and religion – If you follow a particular religious tradition, draw comfort from the mourning rituals it may provide. Alternatively, you may find solace in spiritual activities such as praying, attending a service or meditating. If you find you are questioning your faith follow your loss, talk to a leader in your religious community.

Support groups – You may be surrounded by family and friends and still feel lonely. For some, sharing their experience with others who have experienced a similar loss can be helpful.

Counselling – If you feel that your grief is too much to bear, consider seeing a counsellor who can help you work through the intense emotions you are experiencing or obstacles you may be encountering.

Look After Yourself

Grieving involves immense emotional and physical stress, which you may not even be aware of; it is thus important that you remember take care of yourself.

  • Be honest with yourself, and others, about your needs.
  • Be realistic about how much you can take on.
  • Get enough sleep, eat right and exercise.
  • Practice saying ‘yes’ when someone offer to help or practice asking others for help.
  • Don’t use drugs or alcohol as an escape from the pain or a way to lift your mood.

For more information about grief or how to support someone who is grieving please visit:


Dyregrov, K. and Dyregrov, A. (2008). Effective Grief and Bereavement Support: The Role of Family, Friends, Colleagues, Schools and Support Professionals. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

E. Haley, E. and Williams, L.E. (2015). 64 Myths about Grief that Just Need to Stop. Retrieved from:  http://www.whatsyourgrief.com/64-myths-about-grief-that-just-need-to-stop/

Smith, M. and Segal, J. (2016). Coping with Grief and Loss: Understanding the Grieving Process. Retrieved from: http://www.helpguide.org/articles/grief-loss/coping-with-grief-and-loss.htm#resources

Sontag Bowman, M.A. (2011). Overview of Grief. Retrieved from:  http://www.helpwithgrief.org/index.html