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How to deal with mental blocks when studying

Struggling to study for your next test? Finding it difficult to get to grips with understanding what you need to learn? Here are some tips on how to overcome those irritating 'mental blocks'.

Eleanor Foulds
by Eleanor Foulds
Last Updated:
02 Nov 2022

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What is a mental block?

A mental block is when you find yourself not being able to think clearly. Think of it as a mental barrier that stops you from beig motivated, creative or productive.

We tend to think of mental blocks as something which only affects athletes but they affect us all in many ways, and can prevent us from achieving the goals and outcomes we set for ourselves.

What are the causes of mental blocks?

One of the biggest causes of mental blocks is a lack of focus and feeling overwhelmed. If you're feeling tired, stressed, or anxious this can all contribute to a lack of motivation.

Throughout your studies it can be easy to compare yourself to others, but you shouldn't. Constantly comparing your work against others can make you feel like yours isn't good enough and lead you into a path of self-doubt. It's important to remember that everyone has different styles when it comes to revising, researching and studying, so the only work you should be focusing on is your own.

Having a lack of structure in your studies can also negatively contribute to having a mental block. Not keeping to routines and timetables can sometimes make things seem chaotic, which can in turn make it harder to focus on the tasks you need to get done.

Not setting yourself smart goals can also contribute to getting mental blocks. Not looking at the future and what you have to come can result in you continuing to feel stuck, and may make it hard to overcome barriers.

How to remove mental blocks

As a GCSE, sixth form or uni student, at some point during your studies, you'll experience a 'mental block'. You might be struggling to wrap your head around how a particular concept works, confused as to why 'A+B=Q', or just finding that not a lot of information you're trying to learn is actually cozy in that long-term memory.

Now, just because it may feel as though there's a barrier in your mind preventing any new information entering, doesn't mean you can't find a way past it.

We've come up with a few ideas of how you can get over mental blocks.

So relax, refresh your mind, and have a clear head in order to tackle whatever mental block may arise.

Change your environment

Let's say that you're in your room, studying a tricky diagram laid out in class earlier that week. You might be struggling to grasp its meaning, which can lead to feelings of stress, concern, and confusion. Well, a useful thing to do in this situation is to change your environment.

Move to another part of your house, go into the garden, or even venture to an outdoor space nearby. Our brain has a cheeky way of associating how we feel with where we are. So changing your study space can not only relieve any stress, but it can  also allow for the mind to be de-cluttered and re-approach the problem.

Visit a friend

At the most basic level, human beings are naturally social creatures. We may not always crave the company of others, but we are neurologically hardwired to thrive off of human connection. Positive interactions with those we are close with can do wonders for how we feel, filling us with a stream of positive endorphins.

Chatting with a friend can be a gentle means of clearing the mind, providing a distraction from the problem at hand, and subsequently breezing past that mental block. Communication tools such as zoom are great, free apps that can help you stay connected to your friends in time when you need encouragement and support. 

Get some sleep

Sleep is one of the best things we can do for our mental and physical wellbeing. Yet as a student, it's often something we neglect in favour of just one more episode your favourite boxset.

But, in order to overcome a mental block, and improve your overall mental performance, getting 7–8 hours sleep a night is as essential as drinking water.

If you're stuck on a topic, or you're finding that it's getting late into the evening and your brain's locked the door for the night, it might be time to get some rest. A good night's sleep can allow for a fresh approach the following day, with a refuelled and raring to go brain.

There are some great apps to help you relax and clear your mind such as Headspace. They support you to learn how to deal with everyday life stresses ad put your mind at ease to get you a better night's sleep. Aside from their app they also have many great resources to help you put your positive thoughts into practice. The calm app is another useful sleep app that strives to keep you fit mentally and is designed to help you relax and wake up feeling energised.

Get active

You'll be amazed at how closely linked, and reliant upon each other, the mind and the body truly are. A bit of exercise, whether it be as simple as a walk around the block, or a more intense gym 'like' session, allows your brain to have a break from the pressure it is put under through study. Exercise fills  your neural networks with a range of positive endorphins, and allow you to return to your work feeling refreshed.

There are some great podcasts through the NHS such as Couch to 5K. If you'd prefer to get active from the comfort of your own home then YouTube is the best place to start. The likes of Joe Wicks, Lucy Wyndham-Read and Madfit all have a great range of workouts for all levels.

Read and explore

Nobody has ever, or will ever, have all the answers. You may be struggling to get past a mental block because you can't seem to work out the answer and that's ok. But how we learn is through the teachings of others.

The solution to the problem which may be causing your mental block will likely lie within the depths of the internet, within a book or with either a classmate or teacher. So, if you're stuck, be adventurous. Do some exploring, read what ideas others have previously had, and you won't have to tackle the problem on your own.

In fact, if your mental block has anything to do with researching universities, you'll be able to find all manner of useful stuff on our very own website, including helpful university profiles and course profiles. We've made these tools to help you find the perfect uni and course easily, so have a browse and you'll see it's not as tough or confusing as you thought.

We all get mental blocks

Mental blocks don't discriminate. At different stages within your academic life, you will encounter a vast array of study material that you may not understand right away, or which may seem a bridge too far. But so is any new conquest. That is, until it's conquered.

Using a mix of these different tips and tricks that many of us at Whatuni have found useful over our years will truly help you overcome that mental block.

If they don't work right away, there's no need to stress. Keep trying, don't overthink it, and you'll be breaking down that barrier in no time.

Next steps:

- Stressed about exams? Read more revisions tips and tricks

- Struggling with mental health issues? Get advice here.

- Uni research stressing you out? Use our simple uni search and course search tools.

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