The average student feels at least some level of stress and anxiety before an important exam. But for some individuals, symptoms of stress and anxiety can be severe.
- Breathe: Breathing may sound too easy to be useful, but deliberately expanding your chest to take a deep breath relaxes your muscles and encourages them to work normally again. As a bonus, the increased flow of oxygen helps energize your brain. Best of all, this technique takes only a moment, so use it just before your exam begins or during a particularly difficult section.
When stress starts to take control of your emotions, close your eyes and take three deep breaths. Pause a moment after inhaling, long enough to mark the change from in to out. Then exhale evenly and fully before beginning again.
- Set aside time for yourself: You may feel tremendous pressure to dedicate every waking moment to studying, but it is still important to rest and reconnecting with the people you want to hang out with. Go on a walk, eat dinner with your family or friends, and play with your dog or just chill by having a latte’. This is not permission to slack off – it’s time to re-energise and to refocus on the task at hand.
Research shows that your brain requires time to integrate knowledge. If you never slow the flow of information, your mind becomes overloaded at a faster rate than you can store new information.
- Exercise: Multiple studies have proved that physical exercise is a remarkably effective antidote to stress. Like the breathing exercises, exercise prompts you to focus on your body rather than your worries.
Many students carry their stress in their bodies, and exercise moves your muscles, increases blood flow and works out a good percentage of body knots. When you return to studying, your focus will be much improved.
The most useful side effect of increased blood flow is the increased circulation that extends well beyond the end of your exercise session. Blood carries oxygen, and your brain must have oxygen to work properly. Nothing will decrease your test stress faster than realising you are learning and making progress.
- Sleep: There is a persistent and damaging myth that pulling an all-nighter indicates your seriousness when preparing for an exam. In truth, studying all evening is the worst possible response to stress and anxiety.
Not only is it nearly impossible to remember material read at 3 a.m., but a lack of sleep clouds your mind the next day and perhaps into the week beyond.
Worse, fatigue damages your resilience. Stress is hard on your body. Breathing exercises, downtime and exercise can alleviate the effects of anxiety, but none of them will be as effective as sleep.
Sleep is how short-term memories formed while studying become long-term memories that can be recalled during test-taking.
- Take control of your preparation: Too often, academic stress comes from feeling a lack of control over the situation. While other people will be writing the test questions and grading your answers, you have the power to prepare.
Creating a schedule with concrete goals will give you a sense of progression as you complete required tasks before the big day.
Set the ultimate goal within your schedule then try and break down the goal into chunks. However, with each study goal chunk, you must also allocate a set time frame to finish the chosen study chunk. If you can become disciplined with your time management, study goals become more achievable with less stress and anxiety.
Alternatively, there are other classmates who will be studying for the same exam, and like you, they probably don’t like having to lock themselves away to study. Why not try and get together and form an outside school/university study group. If you’re not as strong in certain areas, ‘marrying up’ and talking with other students might release some stress your feeling. Remember at times it’s good to share the brain-wealth.
At times, stress and anxiety are unavoidable, especially when preparing for major exams. A little stress is a strong motivator, but a lot of stress is harmful and can hurt your performance. If you’re finding things tough or you feel overwhelmed, ask for help. It’s your teacher, lecturer or tutors job to help you understand the subject.
Another option to help manage your stress and anxiety during this time of year is to see a Psychologist or School Counsellor. A mental health practitioner can help guide you through this period of your life by giving you techniques and strategies to cope and maintain a healthy balanced mind.
Our team at Counselling in Melbourne has the skills and expertise to teach you the different approaches, treatments and therapies needed to get you back on track so you can triumph over your exam worries. Call us 1300 967 734
Reviewed by Greg Redmond, Director, Counselling In Melbourne, November 2017
Our blog is for general educational purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for individual professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you need help with an emotional or behavioural problem, please seek the assistance of a psychologist or other qualified mental health professional