Now I know that by this point in the year, you undoubtably will have been inundated with articles or emails or lectures or seminars telling you not to get stressed over exams and the best things you can do to help. None of which are often very helpful. However, recently the University of Birmingham’s Student Wellbeing Services ran a course on Managing Exam Stress which significantly helped me to feel 1 million percent better about my up and coming exams and I absolutely needed to share this experience with you and some of the top tips they gave me.
A Healthy Body, A Healthy Mind – Perhaps the most important thing you can do up until your exams is to get your diet and your sleeping pattern right. Try, within reason, to get up and go to bed around exactly the same times everyday to avoid the sort of jet lag feeling disjointed sleep can give you. Additionally, the food we put into our bodies can often be seen to directly effect the working output – good tips for eating more healthily can be found in Jessica McGanity’s and Holly Wildish-Jones’ articles. Particularly steer clear of high sugar or caffeine products as tempting as they are because they will disrupt sleep and will ultimately result in a severe lack of energy.
Don’t Stop Having Fun – The absolute worst thing you can do during a period of high stress is lock yourself in your room and give up any weekly routine. And this I am totally guilty of. For example, if you are part of a team sport continue to play in their games and attend training or if your part of a society still attend their events and catch up with your friends. It is so important not to feel like exams are taking over your world, even if they are a bit.
Relaxation Techniques – Whilst, at first it may feel ridiculous to lay in your room listening to a woman with a soothing voice telling you to imagine yourself in a green field, getting into a routine of listening to soothing relaxation podcasts can really help with a stressful exam period. A perfect example of such podcasts can be found on the Mental Health website or by downloading the wonderful Headspace app onto your phone or iPod. Just try one, if it doesn’t leave you relaxed and blissful, I’ll eat my exam paper.
Breathing Techniques – For those who stress once you get into the exam it is sometimes difficult to regain your composure. However, these breathing techniques are almost guaranteed to help you relax. Try to practise breathing into your stomach rather than your lungs; place your hand on your belly and once you can feel the hand moving upwards you’ve got this right. Once you have mastered this then begin to follow this rhythm: Breathe in for a count of 4, Hold for 2, Breathe out for a count of 6. If you have practised this before you go into the exam as soon as you feel panic encroaching you can do this and your body should naturally begin to relax.
Dismissing Bad Thoughts – We’ve all been there and had the ‘I’m not good enough’ and ‘I’m not as clever as everyone else’ thoughts. The best way to react to thoughts like this is to recognise you are having the thoughts. So for example if you are having the thought ‘I’m not good enough’ then focus in on that thought and truly believe it, then change the thought to ‘I am having the thought that I’m not good enough.’ Repeat this several times and then change it to ‘I notice I am having the thought that I’m not good enough.’ This will stop any of the thoughts and emotions that come with the thought from coming into play and allow you to distance yourself from the anxiety and to focus on the reality that you got here in this first place and you truly deserve to be here.