Revising for exams? Tough isn’t it.
Everyone wants you to do well, and the pressure to succeed builds up and up the closer you get to the exam. Stress is something that you will encounter throughout your school, university and work life. The purpose of this article is to explain what it is, and finding ways to reduce its effect on you.
There is another kind of stress, however, which freezes our ability to think, act or perform tasks to the best of our abilities. Non-productive stress often makes its presence felt when we least need it to: during the already tension-filled season that is exam time.
There are many strategies to adopt in order to stop stress from paralysing our bodies and minds or from reaching such great proportions that it can cause anxiety or even a full-blown panic attack.
You may find the following tips useful:
1. Get organised
Identify the cause of non-productive stress. Is it an inability to study properly because there is too much noise or activity at home? Is it your own failure to craft a strict study plan or revise regularly? Are there other, deep-seated reasons for stress, such as a fear of failure or a lack of self-belief?
Identifying and working on the source of stress may be difficult work, but it is definitely worthwhile. Usually, the problem is simply poor time management; if so, from the first day of your course, identify your ultimate goal: passing the course or achieving top marks. These goals depend on taking small steps daily, not one giant leap the day before exams.
2. Look on the bright side
Stress and fear are emotions that take hold of all people at some point in their lives. Yet usually, the outcome of stressful situations (exams, public speaking etc) are not as bad as our imagination can lead us to believe. Ultimately, even if the worst-case scenario did take place, it wouldn’t be the end of the world.
Even if you suffered from mental block at a written exam or froze up during an oral exam, it would simply be a matter of picking yourself up, preparing to the best of your abilities for future exams and one day, even looking back at your moment of panic with humour.
3. Have fun
During exam season, you need to ensure that you aren’t spending 100 per cent of your time on study. Working too hard can lead to boredom and stifle creativity. Slot some leisure time into your study plan and spend it with people who lift your spirit, motivate you and make you feel at home. One good talk over a cup of tea can do wonders for the soul.
4. Take exercise
Exercise will not only improve circulation throughout your body, it will also bestow countless health benefits, above all it because it relax body and mind, reducing levels of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenalin, and stimulating the production of potent mood-boosters called endorphins. For maximum benefit, aim to exercise for at least 30 minutes every day and try to perform both cardiovascular and strength (weights-based) exercises. If you find that time is of the essence, try out short but intense workout like CrossFit or Electro-Muscular Stimulation (EMS). Both these workouts take just 20 minutes but are said to be equivalent in effect to an hour-long workout.
5. Take a break and go outdoors
Getting outdoors helps us ‘clear our head’. Contact with Nature can help us recover from illness, alleviates stress and reduces aggression and violence. Various studies reveal that people’s stress levels decline within minutes of contact with Nature.
Even short walks can keep stress at bay and induce positive feelings. Moreover, those living in green environments are more capable of dealing with tense events and stress, than those dwelling in urban surroundings. Even if you have just an hour a week to spare, spend it in Nature; both body and mind will soon reap an array of benefits.
6. Some stress can be good
A recent study has found that short bursts of stress can help us focus an improve our ability at performing cognitive tasks. The important word here is short; chronic stress produces premature ageing and cellular damage. Productive stress is the kind that pushes us to study harder as exam time crops up, motivates us to improve on past results and leads us to concentrate harder on our main goals.
7. Avoid stimulants
Those prone to anxiety attacks should be specially wary of stimulants like caffeine, which, taken in excess, can cause everything from an accelerated heart rate to insomnia. Getting a good night’s sleep is crucial if you are to stay calm and focussed during your exams.
Likewise, steer clear of processed foods containing high amounts of salt and/or sugar. Too much sugar causes blood glucose levels to spike, but soon cause a dip in your energy levels. Stick to low-glycaemic index (G.I.) fruits instead; these release energy in a slower, more lasting fashion. Some of the most delicious low-G.I. fruits include strawberries, apples and peaches.
8. Avoid negative people
Those who constantly compare their results to yours, casually mention disturbing information or rumours that may cause you to panic, or generally make you feel unhappy, should be avoided. Surround yourself with positive people with whom you can laugh. Indeed, humour is one of the most efficient stress busters there is, since it puts things in perspective.
9. Reward yourself
Break up a large body of work into smaller, more digestible chunks and tackle these on a daily basis throughout the duration of your course. Set rewards for yourself for each small goal completed.
There is light at the end of the tunnel, the exams will be over sometime (hopefully) soon. Many students also find it useful to dream up one big reward for after exams are over for instance, camping with friends, a trip or a fun activity like skiing, canyoning or deep sea diving. The ultimate reward, of course, is the sense of achievement that comes from being consistent, committed and courageous.
We hope that you have found these tips useful in managing stress as you revise for those exams. We would love to hear your tips, please feel free to share these with us via the comments.