Top Tips for Students to Help Cope with Exam Stress
Type: All | Category: Teaching | Date: 24th April 2017
Leavers’ Books take a serious look at ways for students to combat exam stress, anxiety and even depression to ensure your education and final grades don’t suffer. We look at what you can do, and where you can go for help and support during this challenging time.
Exam season is upon us and for some students, they may start to feel anxious, nervous and find it difficult to cope. The last and worst thing to do is to ignore these feelings, and expect them to blow over – for some students, these feeling never will fade – and it also sets the wrong precipice for the future. You should face your problems head on, but you could also be aware (and comfortable) to address these issues, to talks about them with peers and others around you. Bottling feelings up can be damaging and more of a distraction, especially at a time when focus is key.
Signs of Recognising Stress
Stress is common, even for adults, when it comes to studying and work. You want the best for yourself and the ego is afraid of failure – which in turn is a good thing, you want to show your best self intellectually, and you want to prove to yourself how good you are.
But the key is knowing the difference from what you can do, and what you can’t – and to never beat yourself up over expecting too much, or not reaching your targets first time round. Your best effort is exactly that, your best effort, and it should be celebrated.
The first thing is recognize the symptoms of stress that may be occurring in yourself, your students, your children of friends:
- Constant tiredness or fatigue
- Difficulty sleeping/waking up
- Poor appetite
- Incontrollable emotions, such as anger or sadness
- Loss of interest and interaction
- Increased irritability
- Migraines and headaches
- Blurred vision or dizziness
With that, you are a step closer to beating it. Stress should be not taken lightly and can lead to worse effects. If any of the above mentioned are prolonged, you may need to do something about your stress levels and it is worth consulting to a doctor.
Advice for Coping with Exam Stress
Here are some suggestions Leavers’ Books can offer for quick and instant things you can do to manage stress and help lower your stress levels.
Address it head on
Know yourself, and learn to recognise when you’re getting stressed or things seem ‘too much’.
Comparing yourself or your ability to others is a recipe for disaster. We’re all different and capable of different things - what you are focusing on at that current moment may not be your strong suit, but as you grow, you learn to accept that and embrace what you are good at. The main thing is you’re trying to improve in this troublesome area – and that takes guts. Don’t worry about anyone else and what’re doing with your time. Similarly, you spending your time worry about others is a waste solely of your time. Make your minutes count.
Look after your diet
Whilst sugary foods and drinks may make you feel energised for short bursts, in the long run they may make you feel sluggish, irritable and less likely to sit down and concentrate. To help you feel prepared be sure to drink plenty of water, eat lots of fruits and vegetables and along with regular meals, you'll be in tip top condition for your exams. Eating right is key – ensure you start your days off with a proper breakfast. It’s the most important meal of the day for a reason.
Rest and recover
It is important for your mind and body to sleep, and to sleep well. Get your recommended eight hours in. Be sure to wind down before you go to sleep too – spend some time away from studying, your phone, your computer, and TV before you close your eyes at night.
Not straying from bright screens as you wind down can affect your concentration levels and memory skills. Try to wake up at the same time in order to establish a regular sleep cycle that leaves you feeling refreshed and alert.
Rest in general is equally as important. Practice breathing exercises, or even look at if you can have a go at getting involved in meditation or yoga to help unwind in down periods. Not only will this be beneficial for you, but you can take little traits from what you’ve learnt and apply it during your exams if you feel flustered or short of breath.
Physical activity also has loads of benefits when it comes to coping with exam stress. Getting some fresh air, getting your blood flowing and release those endorphins to help you to focus and relieve any anxiety – exercise is ideal before and after a stint with your textbooks. Nothing de-stresses the mind master than physical activity.
Plan your time
Everyone approaches revision in different ways, so just make sure you've chosen the method that works best for you. Make a realistic timetable, and try to stick to it. Include fun activities, breaks and exercise into it – don’t solely focus on studying.
Having a plan can help to focus the mind, and knowing what you’re doing and when you’re going to do it will lessen feelings of pressure. It doesn’t have to be a multicoloured, highlighted, complicated timetable – a simple sheet of paper with a few key dates and scheduled revision time is all you need to feel more organised and in control.
Know how you work best
What time of day or what place will assist you concentrating on revision? Who can help you learn and who do you find distracting? Asking these questions honestly can help you to plan your revision time to be more productive, which will help you to feel less stressed out both before and during exams.
Take a break, take another
You can’t work every minute of every day - in fact, generally people learn best when they study in short breaks for 20 to 30 minutes and then do something else. When you're not revising, you can keep your stress levels low by finding something to do that keeps your brain active. Listen to music, do puzzles or start a creative project away from any screen like drawing, scrapbooking or coming up with ideas for your school's yearbook whenever you start to feel overwhelmed. Your brain will thank you for it!
Treat yo self!
After all the hard work you put in, you deserve a treat once in a while. It doesn’t necessarily have to be something big, but think of something you’re going to do or purchase when the exam period is over as keeping this treat in your mind while you’re revising will help to keep you focused and on track. Try also to quit any bad habits along the way.
Talk about it
The one you can address immediately and perhaps the most underrated on our list. Whether it’s with your friends, parents, teachers or anyone you feel comfortable around – many will understand. As an act of catharsis, talking about your problems helps. It doesn’t solve your problem, but getting it off your chest does ease you – others can relate, suggest personal advice considering your circumstances, and even offer help. But it’s down to you to make the first move.
Remember, regarding the exams, once it’s over, it’s over. You did the best you can and put it to bed. Don’t worry about what you wrote for the first question, or how long your friend’s answer was in the final statement.
Ultimately, don't lose sight of the fact that there is life after exams. Things might seem intense right now, but it won't last forever.
Talking Anxiety and Taking Down Depression
Anxiety can be either a short term state or a long term trait; a mental disorders characterised by feelings of anxiety (worried, scared, sometimes confused) and fear. Anxiety is a worry about future events and fear is a reaction to current events – as if your mind was in overdrove, over thinking. As a result, these feelings may cause physical problems also.
The physical symptoms of anxiety can be quite serious (worse than stress) and more noticeable to others, such as:
- Stomach pains, nausea, and even diarrhea
- Shortness of breath, or trouble breathing
- Sporadic increased heart rate, or chest pain
- Tiredness, fatigue and sore muscles
- Incontrollable sweating (perspiration), or itchy skin
- Frequent need to go to the toilet
Anxiety could come along from prolonged stress – like a lasting after-effect. It is the most common of all mental health problems. Research into these disorders has shown that up to 1 in 4 adults will have an anxiety disorder in their lifetime, and that up to 1 in 10 people will have an anxiety disorder each year.
Often misunderstood, depression is more than just feeling low, fed up, tired or unhappy for a day or two. Most people experience feelings of unhappiness, stress or anxiety during difficult times. A low mood may improve after a short period of time, rather than being a sign of depression.
Some people think depression is trivial and not a genuine health condition. Depression isn't a sign of weakness or something you can ‘snap out of’ by ‘pulling yourself together’. It can last for weeks, or even months, if not longer, and should not be overlooked, ignored, or just brushed aside. It’s incredibly hard to get out of bed or do simple tasks – you are overcome with a sense of dread and sorrow, usually for no reason. And sorrow at such a level can be crippling.
However, with the right help, it is something you can conquer.
If our advice above is not quite cutting it (and it won’t in the serious cases of anxiety and depression), there are many organizations that can help if you, and that are there for you to talk to, such as Anxiety UK, Samaritans, Mind, No Panic and the NHS. Even the BBC have advice and videos to help reassure that everything is going to be okay and there is something you can do.
Ways to Stay Focused for Exams and Beyond
Do take head of the advice listed above: taking breaks, treating yourself, and talking to others is something your brain craves. Allow yourself to be distracted by these worries and lose yourself in these moments.
Embrace boredom: If you’re used to needing multiple forms of stimulation while relaxing, it may have a negative impact on your ability to focus. Embrace doing nothing for a change. You’ll feel it and appreciate it more after you’ve worked hard and earned that moment to lay on your bed or sofa and just stretch out.
Minimize multitasking: Scientists have found that multi-taskers are easily distracted and less efficient at tasks.
Find a quiet place: Ambient noise can stimulate the release of the stress hormone cortisol, which can impair brain function and hinder focus.
Don’t think about perfection: It’s a myth and everyone will define it differently. Carry on doing what you think is right, and think about the changes and impacts you can make. There are many blogs based around this, and easy to find which will help you put things into perspective. Remember, you’re unique and different, or to quote Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: “Certain flaws are necessary for the whole. It would seem strange if old friends lacked certain quirks”.
Put things into perspective: What are you thankful for? What good things do you have going for you, no matter how small? Perhaps this video from 2013 of a TEDx Talk may help - a truly eye-opening and inspirational video; beautiful and eloquently put across that you can have a happy life, no matter what obstacles you face:
Sam Berns – My Philosophy for a Happy Life
As we summarise, just know that you are not alone. Seek solace in what makes you happy – you’ll soon also realise, if you are a child reading this, that no one else’s opinion matters but yours. We are all so different. Do what makes you happy.
It’s hard. It’s really hard. Just reading this blog isn’t enough – it barely scratches the surface. But it’s a start.