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How To Painlessly Ease Back Into Studying, According To A Career Expert

I graduated high school seven years ago and still wake up occasionally from stress dreams about sitting my HSC geography exam. I know it's a universally recognised metaphor for feeling unprepared about something in your life, but the thought of sitting down to complete an exam terrifies me.
Having not completed an assignment or test for quite some time now, I wouldn't even know how to approach the task — which is probably what many mature-aged students feel like when heading back to study later in life.
On top of the pressure of actually completing academic work, studying later in life poses additional challenges. Between juggling work schedules, family commitments, hobbies, a packed social calendar and self-care, mature-aged study can be challenging. It's fair to say it's a lot more to worry about than when happy hour at the campus bar is — which is probably what preoccupied a massive amount of your undergrad headspace.
So, if you're considering returning to uni, we asked Liz Hendry, Manager of the Careers Centre at Charles Darwin University, for essential tips for managing it all.

Routine is everything

"Studying while working full time often means sacrificing personal time, family time and social activities. It can be challenging to find a balance that allows for relaxation, spending time with loved ones, and pursuing hobbies," says Hendry.
To avoid this, create a well-balanced routine that includes dedicated time for fun activities, prioritise self-care by scheduling regular breaks, exercising, eating healthy meals, and getting sufficient sleep. 
Additionally, balancing the demands of full-time work and studying requires effective time management skills. Given there may be instances when work and study deadlines and commitments overlap, it's essential to create a schedule and set realistic goals to help manage time effectively and prevent you from feeling overwhelmed.

Befriend your stress (and use it to your advantage)

No one likes stress. But you'll likely encounter it at some point between managing deadlines, group assignments, and watching lectures (all while likely holding down a job).
"Juggling work and study can lead to increased fatigue and a higher risk of burnout. Long work hours combined with studying can result in mental and physical exhaustion," says Hendry.
Hendry recommends finding various stress management techniques to lean on during these times, like deep breathing exercises, meditation, yoga, or engaging in hobbies you enjoy.
"Regularly practising these techniques can help reduce stress levels and improve your overall well-being," she says. On top of finding stress management techniques that work for you, establishing boundaries between work, study and personal life is crucial for maintaining well-being.
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It’s worth investigating what study options are available to students to ensure you can create a schedule that works for you. Universities like Charles Darwin University (CDU) offer 100% flexible, online courses , as well as the option to switch between part-time and full-time. This could prove to be a huge help if you're looking to fit your study around other aspects of your life.
CDU also offers a range of wellness and counselling services, including stress management and time management tools, and 24/7 academic and tech support, to make your journey a little easier. 

Your support network is everything

Busy schedules often don't leave much time for connecting with others. Additionally, while mature-age study might be popular, you might find you're the only person in your social circle currently managing a schedule like that.
"Maintain connections with friends, family, and classmates. Join study groups or engage in extracurricular activities related to your interests to meet new people," says Hendry.
"It's easy to become isolated when studying full time, but social support is crucial for your mental and emotional well-being. Having a support network can provide motivation, alleviate stress, and offer a sense of belonging during your studies."
It might be overwhelming, but in the long run, heading back to school will ultimately be a positive for your personal and professional growth. The experience might not be the same as heading to uni as a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed 18-year-old, but it'll be fulfilling in different ways.
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