Sunday, 17 January 2016

Controlling Exam Stress

It's January which for all us students out there only means one thing, assessment period. Christmas is long gone, and with it all notions of relaxation as the exam period is now in full swing. We've had our chance to over indulge in free time, and now we're paying for it. No matter whether it's GCSEs or University, exams are really scary things, or at least to me they are! Then as you climb up the ladder of education you have more and more to cramp into your brain, and trying not to lose your sanity in that process can be kinda difficult. You may, or may not, be aware that January is Mental Wellness Month, (someone had a big laugh with that one, huh?) so I thought it would be the perfect time for me to put together a little something about how to deal with all these exam stresses, or at least my top tips! Note, these are in a completely random order.

1. Don't just plan, get to know your syllabus. 
The first thing I do when I start revising is break down everything; the time I know I'll put in, the syllabus, the exam paper and how the marks are distributed. If you feel fully aware of what you need to do, what's expected of you and how to achieve it, it should hopefully make you feel more in control and therefore less stressed. I know a great deal of people that make up revision planners, but few that go as far as I do in this process. It might not work for everyone, and taking time away from actually revision time to do this could cause more stress than reassurance for some people but it really helps for me!

2. Take breaks.
 As tempting as it can be to zone right into your revision, it's important to take regular breaks. You don't want to fry your brain! If you struggle to get back into your work after taking a break, or don't know when to take breaks or for how long I'd recommend trying out my app of the month for January, Pomodoro Time. This app could help improve your productivity and make sure you take regular short breaks! Whether it's 5 or 10 minutes every hour or half an hour, breaks are important so you don't exhaust yourself. A break can be anything, from making a cup of tea to a skype session with a friend, just as long as you're doing something different in that time so if you're worried about keeping up with your revision schedule, you can still use your breaks to do something productive like the washing up!

3. Eat Well. 
I'm sure we've all heard about brain foods and if you have an exam why wouldn't you want to feed your brain?! As tempting as it can be to let your diet slip a bit when you've got exams, do your best to stop it from happening. I can truly sympathise with the situation, in fact I've been there, eating all that 'study food' and having nothing but ready meals or take out as I make the excuse that 'I don't have time to cook proper food as I need to revise.' Well I'm afraid it's not a good enough excuse, and fuelling your body with junk food and then expecting it to run on stress and late nights at the library, well it's a recipe for disaster. So no matter how much you crave those chocolate digestives or mini cheddars opt for an apple, and take the time to prepare real nutritious meals. For one you'll feel a lot better when you don't gain weight and better in yourself with more energy and all those other perks of a decent diet. Comfort and stress food does nothing for you and you don't want it making you feel more sluggish and low when you're suppose to be conquering the world or atl east that exam paper.

4. Drink! Don't over do the stimulants. 
Yes, exam season can seem like the best reason to get down to the local and drown your sorrows but that is not the drink I'm taking about. We all know that during revision time we're putting a lot on our poor old brains, and as well as feeding them good stuff you don't want them to go thirsty. Therefore to help your concentration it's important to stay hydrated, which is best done by drinking your recommended 2 litres of water a day. For some that's simple, but others that might be slightly harder as I know more than a few people that really struggle to drink water - my boyfriend for one refuses to drink 'rain' as he calls it. Squash or flavoured water is the next best thing. Just remember that certain drinks, no matter how you think they might initially benefit you with an energy boost or whatever they could be doing more harm than good. Anything that contains caffeine has the side effect of dehydration on some level, so make sure you don't over do the energy drinks, coffee or tea! 

5. Reward yourself.
Like training a dog, or reinforcing good behaviour in a child, it's important to reward yourself when you do good. When you finish a good chunk of revision, spend a whole day at the library or whatever your accomplishment is make sure to give yourself a little treat to say well done. Because what are we if not over grown hairless dogs... or grown up children. Okay the first example sucks, but the point still stands, reward the behaviour you want to repeat because as much as we wish we were better than that we all do respond to basic training. Plus why shouldn't you be rewarded for the things you achieve, focusing on the revision you have done rather than what you haven't should make you feel better and help get rid of some of those stresses. You deserve to be proud of every thing you tick of that list, so whether it's something small like a certain food, a sleep in the next day or a new piece of clothing, don't forget to do treat yourself to something and recognise each achievement!

6. Exercise.
I'm being a bit of a hypocrite with this one as I am forever guilty of putting off the gym for revision or my chill time, but I always make excuses not to go so now is really no different from the rest of the time. Exercise is a great way to reduce stress, release endorphins and get a great boost. If you're spending a lot of time sat still at a table revising all day, taking a break to go for a quick jog or gym sesh is a great way to get that blood pumping again!

7. Get plenty of sleep!
If you're really freaking out about an exam it can be pretty tempting to spend all hours working and revising but you can't skimp on looking after yourself. In the same way as eating a balanced diet, taking breaks and drinking enough water is important so is sleep! We're recommended to get at least 8 hours sleep a night but that's just a general recommendation and some of us may be able to run off more or less. I, for example, really struggle with anything less than 9 hours so if I want to be on top form I make sure I get those and maybe the occasional extra bit! Oversleeping can make you sluggish, but not getting enough sleep can have much worse effects, so figure out what your sleep needs are and cater to them. If you're struggling to sleep at night because of all those exam woes then try switching off earlier, taking kalms, trying sleepy tea or meditation exercises.

8. Take time to relax. 
Yes, this is basically just reiterating the taking breaks and getting enough sleep points but it's worth repeating! You won't sleep if your mind is continuously buzzing so however you do it make sure you get some you time. Everyone has their own ways of relaxing and getting rid of all that stress whether it's face masks and nail painting, drawing, going for a run or watching a film/tv, so whatever yours is make sure you still make time for it. Some people do run off stress, and to be honest I think those people are pretty lucky to have the magical power of turning stress into great accomplishments, but for the rest of us our best work isn't going to happen that way so prioritise your chill time.

9. Know when, where and how you work best.
Again, different for everybody but most people will work better in certain environments opposed to others. If you could be getting more work done in the library than at home then go to the library! Same goes for if it's a coffee shop, your room etc. Trying to get work done somewhere you know you're more likely to procrastinate is going to lead to more time spent doing less work which will probably lead to stressing out over that wasted time, so cut that out and don't waste the time in the first place.
The same thing applies to making the most out of your most productive hours, while I work better in the evenings a lot of people don't. It might mean making a few temporary changes to your routine but if you're going to get more done and therefore be more confident in your revision surely it's worth it?

10. Comparisons are a sure way to stress yourself out.
This applies to absolutely everything in life. Comparisons are killer, so do your best to stop making them! If Steve or Suzy have been living in the library for 3 weeks and have done loads more revision than you as a result then 'woop woop' for them, but that doesn't mean you should being doing that. Steve/Suzy might be fully aware that they're not great at this subject so need to put a lot more time into it, but even if they are the smart-arses of the group that doesn't mean you should stress yourself out because you haven't done what they've done. Guess what you're not them, you're you. Hooray for you! As long as at the end of the day you know you've done your best, and feel as confident as you could come exam day, that's all that matters. You set your own expectations and if you meet those, you shouldn't give a damn about what Steve and Suzy are doing. Plus, it's a waste of time stressing about them when you should be focusing on yourself.

11. Under pressure.
Don't put an undue amount of pressure on yourself. I am fully aware that everyone wants to do their best in exams, and we're always going to strive to accomplish those top grades but be realistic. If you know you'd do well to get a certain grade than be happy for that, and don't stress yourself out striving for something you know fully well is unlikely to happen, it'll just lead to more stress and bitter disappointment. You should be happy with achieving YOUR best grade whether it is the best grade by other peoples standards or not. I may have gotten a 2:2 in one of my language modules this year but I struggled with it from the word go and I'm over the moon with my grade because I know I could have very easily failed. Yes some people got firsts and some people got 2:1's but that's no reflection on me or my very own capabilities so it shouldn't and doesn't have any effect on me.

12. Support network.
Exam nerves are something a lot of people don't seem to really talk about, unless it's in some blasé way with your friends. If you're getting really worked up with stress make sure you know where your support network is, who they are and go talk to them. Your school, college or university should offer some form of support service that you can go and let off steam to, and even get advice on how to deal with everything, or find a family member or friend that you can really talk to about exams to make sure you get everything off your chest rather than just having the usual 'I'm stressed' 'me too' 3 second conversation that has the potential to just go round in circles. 

13. Get some changes of scenery.
This may appear to contradict my other point of working where you know you'll do it best, but it isn't suppose to. If you're working in the same place day in day out, spending all of your time there then you're likely to get bored quicker and maybe go a little crazy spending all those hours in the same 4 walls, so change it up every now and again. I'm sure there's more than one library in your area you can visit, more than one coffee shop, and if you like working in the comfort of your own room then I might be a little stuck on suggestions so maybe just get out of it for a few days for a change of pace. (There's that contradiction) Hopefully the change will be refreshing and get you right back in to your work. 

14. Forgive yourself.
Okay maybe you didn't start revising as early as you should, slept in on the days you promised you'd get up and go to the library or stayed in bed watching netflix and scrolling through facebook when you were suppose to be working. As annoyed at yourself as you might be when that exam date finally comes around, forgive yourself. Exams are hard, as is doing all that revision so we're bound to slip at some point and I don't think anyone ever accomplishes as much revision as they set themselves. Maybe you focused on one topic more than another, whatever it is be at peace with it and forgive yourself. 'It's okay I was lazy, I needed that day off.'  

15. Look at the bigger picture.
Your exam isn't the be all and end all. Yes it might seem it right now, and yes your results could contribute to your future but at the end of the day it only has as much significance as you let it. If I mess up university this year it will suck, I know that but I will still have had amazing experiences, learnt new things, have an amazing boyfriend, some wonderful friends and a very supportive family. Yes it will hurt but I know that despite my initial plan going wrong, I'll be able to pick myself up, brush myself off and carry on pursuing my dreams. There's always more than one way to get were you want to go, so step back, take a deep breath and take a look at that bigger picture. 

I apologise for the crappy quality photo, (note to self; don't take photos at midnight in your badly lit room) and for the fact that this post is coming out a little late as I'm sure many exams have come and gone by now. For those of you who have yet them, Good Luck! I hope this helps even just a little, let me know how you got on and if you have any of your own exam-stress busting tips to share!

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