Whether you’re taking exams, or living with someone who is, you’ll be aware how stressful they can be. What follows is a brief guide to exam stress – how to spot it, how to minimise it, and how to cope with it.
Spotting exam stress
Stress of itself isn’t necessarily bad for us. In fact we need a degree of stress in order for us to raise our game and perform well. However too much stress is counter-productive, and you need to spot when it’s happening.
Watch out for:
- Irritability and low mood
- Difficulty getting to sleep, difficulty in waking up, and constant tiredness
- Eating much less or more than normal
- Lack of enjoyment or loss of interest in activities
- Headaches and stomach pains
Those of us living with teenagers might recognise that from everyday life. The trick here, as with managing stress with anyone, is to look for changes in their normal patterns of behaviour.
Minimising exam stress
There are four excellent ways to minimise stress and its effects in any situation – diet, sleep, exercise, and relaxation
- Eat well – don’t skip breakfast, don’t skip other meals, and eat a healthy balanced diet. Your brain uses up to 20% of your body’s total energy so don’t try and shortchange it when you’re trying to get the best out of it.
- Sleep well – make sure that you get the right amount of sleep, and that it’s good quality. At this time sleep hygiene is more important than ever so don’t revise or study in bed. Make bed, and of possible your bedroom, a sanctuary from revision and not a reminder of it.
- Exercise well – exercise, and the endorphins it creates, are excellent for dealing with stress and anxiety. Exercise earlier in the day promotes good quality sleep as well, so make sure that you make time for it.
- Live well – make sure that you make time for relaxation, whether that’s in a sport, a hobby, or just watching TV without a textbook or revision notes in your lap
- Remember the people as well that are there to help and support you– friends, family, teachers and tutors. Talk to them about what’s worrying you will help you to keep things in perspective and to get your thoughts in order. Don’t rely on ‘false friends’ though – caffeine, nicotine and alcohol aren’t going to help you focus or to relax healthily.
- All of this needs to be in the context of a structured programme of revision. However, no matter what your revision has been like cramming all night before the exam is usually counter-productive. You’re much more likely to benefit from proper sleep than increasingly tired and panicky study.
Coping with exam stress
- On the day of your exam make sure that you get up in good time, eat well, and have everything to hand that you’ll need. The last thing you want to do is have a stressed hunt for items round the house.
- Have a positive conversation with someone. If it’s your child taking an exam remember to encourage them and to remind them how proud of them you are already. Mentioning past mistakes or potential future disappointment will only undermine them.
- After each exam, take the time to think about how it went. If there are things that didn’t go as well as you hoped for, or that you’re worried about, learn not to dwell on them. Instead ask yourself what you wish you had done instead; how you might be able to apply that in the next exam; and what you can do between now and then to make that happen. This will help you turn rumination into positive action, and leave those worries where they belong – in the past.
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