Stress Management for Exam Season
[Header Image: Anna Deflorian]
As we welcome Summer in the UK, for many, it marks the final stretch of exam season, last hand-in of assignments and the anticipation of awaiting results. Last September, I returned to studying after eight years in the classroom and was reacquainted with the familiar feelings that accompany academic pressure. Sitting exams, managing assignments and working towards desired grades can feel overwhelming, it’s important that wherever you are at in your study journey, you find ways of caring for yourself when everything feels that bit too much. Here are some ways to help manage stress and encourage you to put your mental health first.
I know, goal setting and reflection can sound super cheesy. But rather than setting targets, this is about taking a moment to reflect on how far you have come, and what you have achieved personally and academically. It can be easy to lose track of time when swimming through deadlines, word-counts and revision. Those who have completed their studies will often share of how quickly time passes by. Self-reflection is an exercise which can boost confidence and keep tabs of the amazing progress you have made.
Ways To Implement Self-Reflection
1. Journal: If you enjoy writing, always keep a journal or small notepad to hand. Whether daily, or weekly, write a few notes on how you are feeling, key points you have learned and what you would like to revisit. Be sure to note what you have accomplished and what you’re proud of.
2. Meditate: Finding a meditative practice can be excellent for self-reflection as it allows you time to sit with your own thoughts and process during busy and stressful times. This can be taking yourself for a walk, tidying your space, exercising, using breathing exercises. A friend of mine shared that she self-records talking her day out loud when she’s walking home. I love this idea as it allows you to speak freely about what you feel, what’s you’ve learnt. Personally, I enjoy making notes in my planner or taking a walk. I recommend trying a few things and finding what works best for you!
Organisation & Routine
No matter what age or what grades we’re working towards, every student has different commitments, lifestyles and routines. Finding a routine which is accommodating to both studying and your personal life is essential. What’s even more important? Scheduling time for yourself to relax and take a break. This, of course, seems easier said than done. If you’re beginning a new course, or have upcoming deadlines, creating a timetable for the week(s) ahead can help you to visualise what the days look like ahead. After blocking out time for exams, deadlines and work commitments, be sure to set aside time to socialise or do something you enjoy. I understand that socialising arounds exams can feel like you’re going against the grain, but socialising can really help to elevate your mood and make it easier to revise and recall information when those exam papers roll out.
Organisation also makes us feel more prepared. Personally, my academic journal was an excellent (lifesaving) piece of kit for staying on top of assignment deadlines. I also made sure to write in social dates, birthdays, holidays, so that I had events to look forward to in my social life which helped to separate study time from my personal life. Remember, it’s never too late to begin making more time for your mental health.
Self-care & Habit-building
The term self-care is used a lot, don’t worry, I’m not going to recommend you buy bath bombs for #selfcare – this is about you making a commitment to schedule in time for you and you only. Building positive habits is way in which we can care for ourselves daily, small habits which can make a big difference to how we feel and manage our stress. Here some examples of positive habits which can help to make exam season more manageable:
1. Sleep: When I think of studying, I think of students rocking up to class with sunglasses on, clutching a coffee after pulling an all-nighter. This image is somewhat glamorised, almost encouraged or accepted as being a part of the package for getting assignments in on time or getting those grades. However, this is not sustainable, and burn out wreaks havoc on the body. Getting plenty of rest and sleeping well, ensures your brain can play catch up and restore balance in your body.
2. Stay hydrated: Drinking plenty of water helps to improve performance and elevates mood. Our brains are 75% water(!), staying hydrated helps to improve creativity, clarity and ability to focus. Water is your exams best friend.
3. Coffee: I have to say, I would welcome a coffee sponsorship to get me through my studies. But one thing is certain, reducing caffeine intake helps to support the nervous system and reduce feelings of stress and anxiety. Many argue that a stimulant before exams can improve your alertness and focus, however it’s important to remember that everybody reacts differently, and this may cause some to feel more stressed before sitting their paper. Limiting intake of any stimulants, energy drinks, teas - can also help to improve your sleep cycle and overall wellbeing. Don’t worry, you don’t have to say goodbye to the elixir of life, just make sure you’re drinking plenty of water and a good night’s kip.
[Image: Prianka Jain]
Your mental health comes before your studies, your mental health is more important than your grades. Academic pressure can feel overwhelming and it’s important that you remember that you don’t have to do it alone. There can be a lot of pressure to meet expectations and it can feel scary asking for help. This is your reminder that reaching out for support takes a lot of courage and there will always be someone there to listen. Reaching out to family or friend and letting them know that things are tough can help to provide a listening ear, however if you feel more comfortable talking to someone new, there are many support groups, helplines and communities (online and in-person) which can offer support.
Wherever you are in your study journey, whether you’re rounding up exams, waiting for grades to go to university, writing a dissertation – you should be so proud of yourself and for all that is yet to come.
Free Support, Helplines and Resources ↓
Young Minds: https://www.youngminds.org.uk/
Mind UK: https://www.mind.org.uk/
Campaign Against Living Miserably: https://www.thecalmzone.net/
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