As your courses come to a close and the summer slowly approaches, that dreaded season is back. That's right, it's exam time!
And whether your face is breaking out in stress-pimples, you’re falling asleep in the library or even if you’re just ignoring it all and knocking back the vodkas, it’s time to face the music – or in fact, the deafening silence of the exam hall.
How do I know if I’m stressed?
When you come up against a difficult task (i.e. your next biology exam), you can start to feel a little tense. We’re all a bit guilty of putting off the jobs we find tricky – which is great for some short-term relief. But this can lead you to start feeling guilty or angry – and it can cause your stress levels to rise.
Physical symptoms of stress can include things like headaches, nausea, chest pains and a rapid heartbeat. If you’re feeling slightly more anxious than usual, take a step back and reflect on how you’re feeling- are you stressed out over exams?
What’s wrong with stress anyway?
If you are feeling a little stressed right now, there’s no need to panic. In fact, a little bit of stress can actually be a good thing. But sometimes stress has the power to take over and that might just make life more difficult – not what you need when you’re trying to memorise 12 weeks worth of classes.
Stress can lead to difficulty sleeping (which in turn leads to more stress), racing thoughts (which can be a serious exam distraction) as well as a lack of energy and trouble focusing. To maximise exam time and minimise the amount of time spent wanting to scream into your revision notes, we’ve provided some top tips on reducing exam stress.
How to reduce stress
1) Stop avoiding, starting now
We know that you know this already. Maybe you’re the sort of person that starts their revision months in advance but if exams are looming and you’re still pretending it’s not happening, perhaps this is the wake up call you were waiting for. When stress levels hit the roof on exam week you’ll be grateful for starting even one day earlier.
2) BUT do take regular breaks
Okay skivers! Go easy on this one. But if you’re the kind of person that finds yourself staring at the computer getting nowhere, it doesn’t harm to take a time-out. If you think you can only afford a 20-minute break during the study day, make sure you have things to look forward to in the evenings or on the weekend – this could mean a nice dinner with friends or a trip to the cinema.
Spending time away from your books will mean you can get your head in the zone when you come back to them. And the distraction will do wonders for your stress levels.
3) Tidy your desk space
Do a Marie Kondo and go to town on your workspace. Clearing a cluttered desk can help you feel calmer, in the zone and more organised for exam time, which in turn can make you feel significantly less stressed out. But don’t use this as an excuse to procrastinate. After the initial tidy-up dedicate 5 minutes at the end of each study day to tidying things away. That way, each revision day will be started in the right frame of mind.
4) Remember to breathe
It’s completely normal to panic in a mid-revision meltdown or even on exam day itself. Downloading a meditation app and practicing your breathing is one way to learn how to find some inner calm. That way, when you start to feel the stress rising, you have the techniques on hand to help chill you out.
5) Get outside
It can be pretty miserable sitting inside during exam season, especially as this time of year is just when the weather starts perking up. So lace up those trainers and go for a run, or rope in a friend for some yoga – the stress-busting endorphins will have you springing back to your revision desk. And if working out really isn’t your thing, just gather up your notes and head into the park. A change of scenery and some fresh air will sort you out.
6) Give your body some TLC
Stress-eating might come a lot easier than remembering the answer to last year’s exam question but that doesn’t mean you should make it a habit. Of course you should allow yourself some treats, this is a difficult time after all. But feeding your body too much sugar or living solely off coffee can increase anxiety levels. To make sure your body is the super-efficient machine you know it can be, make sure you’re getting eight or nine hours sleep, drinking plenty of water and eating enough slow-release carbs.
7) Buddy up
Revising with friends can help break the monotony of studying alone and can leave you less time to ruminate and feel anxious. Plus, realising that they are more than likely just as stressed out as you are can also help ease some of the burden.
Exam period is a stressful time, so remember it’s normal to feel a little overwhelmed. But follow the above tips and we know that you have got this. And ultimately if you really feel that you aren’t coping well with your stress levels, don’t be afraid to reach out for help.
Your university should have a student advice centre that can help you when you’re struggling or reach out to a family member of friend about the pressure you feel.