If even the word ‘exams’ sends your pulse racing and makes you feel nauseous, relax because practical help is at hand to deal with it. With an increasing number of students turning to charities like Student Minds for help with mental health issues linked to studying, here are 12 effective ways that you can manage stress before, during and after the exam season.
1. Put it in perspective
Exams aren’t the be all and end all. A lower than hoped grade or a fail won’t stop you from being successful in life. It’s all about perspective. Employers look beyond exam results. They know that it’s the person that counts. Attitude, enthusiasm, skills, confidence and professionalism count for far more than grades. Once an exam is over, try to forget about it. Worrying changes nothing. Move onwards and upwards.
2. Try a little mindfulness
Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. Mindfulness is a very useful tool in the box for managing your body’s stress response. Annex a few minutes each day for breathing exercises – here’s how. Breathe out completely through your mouth making a whoosh sound. Close your mouth, inhale quietly through your nose then hold your breath for seven seconds. Whoosh out through your mouth for eight seconds. Repeat for up to 10 minutes. It’ll help you think rationally and expel negative thought patterns.
3. Eat, sleep and exercise
Mental stress can really take the edge off your appetite but it’s essential that you get some good brain food down you and avoid junk food. Try fresh and crunchy sticks of carrots, celery or cucumber. Nuts lower levels of stress-inducing cortisol. Walnuts are great for memory, too. Asparagus is rich in de-stressing vitamin B, berries contain vitamin C which strengthens your immune system. Other good exam foods are bread, rice, pasta, bananas, dried fruit, oatmeal and dark chocolate.
Watch what you drink. Avoid heavily caffeinated energy drinks, strong coffee and any alcohol. Sip cups of tea instead – preferably black, green or oolong – and drink around 7 glasses of water every day. Hydration is incredibly important. Your brain will thank you for it.
Get 8 hours of sleep each day and avoid pulling all-nighters. Easier said than done? Do whatever helps you relax, like soaking in a hot bath, watching TV or listening to music. Your body and brain will also be more alert after proper exercise thanks to a boost in stress-busting endorphins. You don’t need to be a member of a flashy gym. A quick run or a brisk walk in the fresh air can work wonders.
4. Set realistic goals
Weeks? Days? Hours? However long you have to revise and mentally prepare for before your exams, you need to accept where you are and set yourself genuinely realistic goals. Doing this enables you to look objectively at what you need to do. It also makes your study time way more effective.
5. Take breaks and have fun
Let’s face it, all work and no play is pretty dull. Piling pressure on yourself and worrying solves nothing. Lighten up. Have a laugh with friends. Treat yourself to a night out with mates or a meal with your bestie and make full use of your student discount status. The break, even a short one, will do you good.
6. Organise yourself
Not the most organised person in the world? Getting your act together in the run up to exams is essential. Keep a diary, write daily to do lists, break revision into chunks and make a plan. Figure out what marks are allocated to which exams and how much you need to learn for each. Work out a routine that includes regular breaks and works for you. Then stick to it like glue. Do that and you won’t panic and will feel much more confident and in control.
7. Get a revision buddy
Revising with other students has been proven to be a highly effective study technique. It doesn’t suit everyone, but it’s worth trying. The theory is that it helps you to understand and absorb your own notes much better. Add to that the fact that you’re also getting support from a friend during a potentially stressful time and the benefits are great and mutual.
8. Ditch social media
Whoah! What? Seriously? Yep. It’s a big ask, but setting yourself a social media curfew during revision times can really avoid distractions, aid concentration and lower stress. The last thing you want to hear is how much revision fellow students are putting in. Plus, precious minutes can easily be frittered away just scrolling through your newsfeeds. Think you’ll find it tough? Need an extra incentive? There are apps out there, like ‘Hold’ on iOS and Android that earn you points that you can cash in for rewards for every 20 minutes you don’t use your phone. You can even compete with your friends and other students!
9. Turn to family and friends
Parents often have unrealistically high expectations of their kids, especially when it comes to exams. That can really ramp up the pressure and stress. Tackle this head on by having a proper chat with them. Tell them what you think you’re capable of achieving and ask for their support. Beyond family, friends can help you vent and tutors are also great people to discuss your worries and anxieties with, as they can offer practical help, too.
10. Pace yourself
You can push yourself too hard and burn yourself out at exam time. But even if you’re in the middle of an exam there are techniques you can use to relieve panic and pace yourself. Take deep breaths, drink plenty of water and then look at things afresh and logically. Look at the problem and break it into easy to tackle chunks. You’ll crack it!
11. Think positively
Yes, exams can be daunting, but if you’ve prepared well and really applied yourself, why worry? If any negative thoughts do creep into your mind, counter them with something positive. So, if you start to worry about the grades you might get, stop and think ‘Whatever happens, I know I’ve done my absolute best and I’ve already achieved so much’. A strong positive mental attitude is the perfect antidote for stress.
12. Ask for help
Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for help any time you need it. Don’t let exam stress and anxiety fester and build. Talk to friends, family and tutors about how you’re feeling and any problems you may have. You can also turn to the UK’s student mental health charity Student Minds. They do a brilliant job empowering students like you to look after their mental health, support others and create change.
So, there you are, a dozen ways that you can diffuse exam stress. Try to use as many as you can. Enjoy student life to the full and rise to the challenge of exams. We’re rooting for you.
Note: Split The Bills pledges £1 to the Student Minds charity for every shared property that signs up to the stress-relieving new bill splitting service. Click here for details.