It seems rather fitting that Monday 13th May 2019 marked both the beginning of the formal summer examination period and Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK.
Exams and mental health go hand in hand. There’s very little getting away from the fact that exam season can be a stressful time of year for students and parents alike. It’s worth noting however that what you’re feeling right now is completely natural, and the overwhelming majority will be feeling exactly the same. Take some comfort in knowing you’re not alone.
I bet you’ve heard this a million times before but it’s worth repeating. All you can ever do is your best and whilst it is easier said than done, try not to give yourself a hard time.
Remember that what you’re feeling right now shall pass. Both the exams and stress will be a distant memory in no time at all and you’ll soon be enjoying the summer holidays!
In the meantime, I’ve put together five simple stress busting strategies and tips to help you better cope with exam stress.
Go for a walk
Exercise is a proven stress buster as it fills your brain with endorphins, which are essentially happy hormones. A brisk twenty-minute walk can work wonders and helps put things into perspective. Leave your phone at home and immerse yourself in nature. Listen to the birds, feel your feet connecting with the ground, look up and breathe deeply; fill your lungs with fresh air.
This sounds rather obvious considering it’s something that we do naturally; but have you ever recognised how you breathe when you’re feeling stressed or anxious? It often feels fast, tense and restrictive. Deep breathing is one of the best ways to lower stress in the body. When you breathe deeply, it sends a message to your brain to calm down and relax. Try this simple deep breathing technique:
- Sit or lie flat in a comfortable position.
- Put one hand on your stomach just below your ribs and the other hand on your chest.
- Take a deep breath in through your nose, and let your stomach push your hand out. Your chest should not move.
- Breathe out through pursed lips as if you were whistling. Feel the hand on your belly go in, and use it to push all the air out.
- Do this breathing 5 to 10 times. Take your time with each breath.
- Notice how you feel at the end of the exercise.
Sleep your way to success
It’s easy to neglect sleep when you have exams looming but getting enough quality sleep (8-10 hours a night) will improve thinking, concentration and help you reduce stress far more than a few hours of panicky last-minute study.
The deep breathing technique performed before bed will help significantly in easing yourself into a slumber state. Try to limit exposure to screens before bed. Opting for a book before bedtime is a much more sensible choice than Netflix or social media. So be sure to switch your mobile phone to airplane mode.
One final word on sleep; avoid drinking soft drinks and energy drinks, particularly after lunch. The caffeine can stimulate your nervous system making you feel more stressed, caffeine can also prevent natural relaxation at night. You’ve been warned! Stick to water would be my advice.
What’s in your control?
How often do we worry about things that we cannot control? One of my chief worries when I was at school was ‘what questions might appear on the test paper?’ Rather than expending energy and stressing over these uncontrollables, a better use of your time is to focus your attention on what you can control.
Create a revision schedule and plan a daily routine that you can stick to. Incorporate regular breaks (10 minutes or so for every focused hour), and use these breaks productively to recharge. Spending a little time away from the books will leave you feeling more refreshed and relaxed the next time you revise.
There really is no greater feeling than going into an exam hall knowing you’ve given it your all with revision. Remember proper preparation prevents poor performance.
Believe in YOURSELF!
“Promise me you’ll always remember: You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” ~ A. A. Milne
During stressful moments it becomes all too easy for self-doubt to creep in. The little devil on our shoulder tries to tell us that we are underprepared, and this doubt can very quickly escalate into full-blown fear.
Counter this negative cycle by bringing to mind a memory when you exceeded your own expectation. Revisit this moment and the way it made you feel. Stay with this feeling for a while.
Now take time to repeat the following three affirmations. Repeat each one three times whilst taking long and slow breaths. Find your own rhythm.
“I am relaxed and calm.” “My tension is melting away.” “I am letting go of all my worries and fears.”
When practiced consistently, these affirmations will help to create a sense of space within the mind and support lowering stress levels.
Wishing you every success!
Health and Wellbeing Coach and Founder of Smilinggg
Note: This article was written for Beacon Academy Newsletter. You can view the article via Beacon Academy's Newsletter here