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I see that the good weather is here and the longer evenings, so that just means one thing – the exams are around the corner. I remember when I was in school trying to figure out who the genius was that decided that summer was a good time to have examinations; surely I had better things to be doing with myself in the good weather. I’m getting goose bumps even now thinking back to when I had exams, and I actually liked exams because I think I work better under pressure.

But that’s the thing, how do you work well under pressure or stress? Well stress can actually be positive, it’s a motivator. If you are any way like me you might never finish or even start anything unless you put yourself under pressure. Ask any sportsperson, they will tell you that they need the stress or pressure of competition to spur them on, motivate them to make that extra effort. However, our bodies can’t handle being under stress for long periods of time; this is when stress becomes distress and rather than working at our optimal level we end up burning out and crashing. So how do you manage your stress levels at exam time?

Let me share with you my BEST stress tips for students at exam time.

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Breathe. This might sound rather foolish but actually when you get stressed your breathing tends to speed up and your ideas begin to run away with themselves. It’s important to slow down, and the easiest way to do this is by slowing your breathing; stop, take deep breaths. This simple action will slow down your mind and help you keep perspective. Remember there’s light at the end of the tunnel, exams have a beginning and an end. Once an exam is finished forget about it, move on to the next; you can’t control what you have already done, only prepare for the next. Before you know it they will be over and the rest of the summer will be before you.

Eat. The last thing you need to do is become sick during your exams and one way to avoid this is to have a healthy balanced diet running up to and during the exam period. Make sure you have daily portions of fresh fruit and vegetables in your diet and if possible fish rich in omega 3. Remember you’re not just feeding the body but the brain as well and now more than ever your brain needs the right foods. I would highly recommend avoiding any artificial stimulants and sugar rushes from things like caffeine or energy drinks during the exams. All they do is give you boosts of energy and then leave your body and brain drained. I have seen numerous students during exams who simply come to a halt halfway through the exam when the effects of the energy drinks wear off. You need to maintain your stamina right to the end of the exam. If you have a sweet tooth like me, you can always have a bit of dark chocolate. This is good for you because it counteracts the stress hormone cortisol and releases endorphins which make you feel more positive.

Sleep. I know that when I don’t have a good night’s sleep I’m not going to be as effective the next day; my thinking becomes sluggish and all I’m doing is thinking about crawling back into the bed. You need between 7 and 8 hours of solid sleep each night and this doesn’t happen by chance. You need to have a structure for your exam days. Don’t sit up late at night studying, your brain is too tired to take anything extra in. If you do think you need to do some last-minute cramming, get up a bit earlier the next morning. Your brain will be that bit more refreshed. Keep your notes away from your bed and try to ensure that you turn off things like your phone or tablet as you also need to simply switch off before you can sleep. These things keep our brain thinking and active when what it really needs is to slow down. Remember sleep helps you remember, not by revising, but by preparing your body and brain for the exam the next day.

Talk. It is really important that if you do begin to feel overwhelmed by the whole experience you talk to somebody about it, friends, parents and even your teachers. Simply by talking about something can help you to get the right perspective. Sometimes you might find that you have unrealistic expectations for yourself or that others have unrealistic expectations of you. The only solution to all of this is to talk it out and keep it real for yourself. Don’t isolate yourself from your friends and family during exam time either. Downtime is so important to give yourself a chance to relax and rejuvenate. Try and get some relaxation and exercise in each day. One good solution to stress is to hear your own positive talk: reaffirm yourself by telling yourself that you are well able to cope and you are more than just some results of an exam. Keep positive!!

If, as Rudyard Kipling once said, “you can keep your head when all around are losing theirs,” then you’ll have no problem coping with the exams and achieving whatever goals you have set for yourself. Remember all you can do is your BEST and enjoy the future.

Feidhlim

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