Managing MBA Anxiety
The stress that comes with an MBA education can be brutal. Whether it’s studying for exams, balancing projects and extracurriculars, or landing a job, an MBA can easily weigh heavily on mental health. Reet Sen experienced the stress and anxiety of an MBA first-hand.
“By the time it got to exam time, the level of anxiety and panic I was feeling became almost overwhelming,” says Sen, who graduated from Hult International Business School in 2015. “The pressure to be top dog in class, to network effectively and to maintain my grades was made worse by the need to maintain a stiff upper lip in front of classmates and staff.”
Sen is among many who experience the panic and anxiety that comes with a business education. Virginia Matthews, a contributor for Financial Times, recently discussed the state of mental health at business schools in a Financial Times report.
A troubling trend
According to data provided by the Higher Education Statistics Agency, 1,180 students in the United Kingdom dropped out of university due to mental health issues in 2014-15. The data has risen 210% from 380 in 2009-10, The Guardian reports.
Andrew Main Wilson is the chief executive of the Association of MBAs. Main Wilson tells Financial Times that mental health issues at the postgraduate level are likewise increasing. In response, he says, schools are adapting. Financial Times reports that among more than 2,000 business schools from 104 countries, stress management skills were included in 37% of MBA programs. Main Wilson says that these types of courses “would have been unheard of 15 years ago.”
Arnold Longboy is executive director of Leadership Programmes at London Business School. He says that the perception of mental health is crucial.
“Self-awareness is a key part of our leadership training and is helping to challenge the stereotype of a macho business executive who cannot admit to any vulnerability,” Longboy tells Financial Times. “But this is only the start of a long journey.”
For Sen, taking control of his own mental health problems started with developing a routine. Sen’s routine was based on his philosophy “swap it, don’t stop it.”
“Rather than compromising on the stuff that made me more productive, I would build non-study activities into my schedule, and essentially replace the habits that destroy my productivity,” Sen writes in a blog post for FULL FABRIC. “I set an agenda which included healthy habits such as cooking nutritious meals and exercising. These activities provided a break from my studies and stimulated my productivity.”
Stick to a schedule
On top of swapping non-essential activities for more productive ones, Sen says it’s important to stick to a schedule. This involves determining when you study — day or night.
“Graduate school is not a place where you want to be panicked,” Sen says. “Even if you’re a night owl, make sure you’re prepared to make all of your appointments and make special preparation for assessments and exams.”
Manage your environment
Sen says your environment plays a huge role in how you learn and how much you learn. Part of managing your environment, he says, is to know what works for you and what doesn’t.
“If you work better in a study group, choose a group of people whose style reflects your own,” Sen says. “If you’ve tried working with others but find you’re better suited to studying alone, play to your strengths.”
At the end of the day, Sen says, managing the anxiety of an MBA starts with knowing what works best for you.
“I believe the most valuable lesson is to know yourself, your environment and understand your strengths and weaknesses,” he says. “It pays to be attentive to the study style that suits you.”