Exam season is almost upon us, which means stress levels are soaring. From the fear of failure, to the age-old practice of trying to cram as much information as possible into your brain, we remember all too well the stress that exams bring. Sadly, stress is a natural part of life, and whilst there is no way to completely eliminate it, there are ways to effectively manage and cope with exam stress.
What is exam stress?
Exam stress is a form of stress in which you feel you can’t cope with revision, exams or pressure to do well. Exams are naturally stressful, but it can cause problems such as irritability, lack of sleep, headaches and loss of appetite. If you find yourself feeling any of these symptoms or feel like you can’t cope, the following advice could help you.
Whilst stress can cause you to lose your appetite, your body needs food in order to fuel your brain and body. At the end of the day, those countless cups of coffee might give you a “caffeine boost” but this will only make things worse in the long run. Caffeine is actually a stimulant, which means that whilst it can make you feel more alert, it will also reduce your concentration levels and make you more irritable. It will be far more beneficial to stick to a healthy diet. Scientific research suggests that superfoods like blueberries and broccoli can help boost concentration levels and brainpower. It may also be worth taking vitamin supplements to nourish your body as stress can deplete the body of vitamin C.
Get plenty of rest
It might seem logical to stay up late to revise and wake up early for yet more revising, but it’s imperative that you allow your body to rest for 8 hours each night. Not only will this give your body a much-needed break but it will also give you time to rejuvenate in order to boost your concentration levels, allowing you to tackle another day of revision.
Take regular breaks
Whilst it’s tempting to hole yourself away and become a recluse until you’ve memorised the works of Shakespeare off by heart, this just isn’t feasible in the long run. You need to take regular breaks from revising or you’ll just feel your concentration levels plummeting and your brain will act as a sieve and leak out all of the information that you’re trying so desperately to retain. You should take a 15 minute break every hour or so. Try taking a bath or listening to some music, but avoid watching TV as you may get too distracted and lose motivation to continue with your revision afterwards.
Exercising should tie in with your breaks. When taking breaks, it’s best to do something active such as taking a walk or going for a quick jog. The fresh air will give your brain a boost of oxygen and reenergize you. Failing that, gentle exercises such as yoga and tai chi are great ways to relax and refocus your mind.
Talk to somebody
There’s no shame in feeling the pressure of exam stress. Talk to somebody about how you feel and you’ll find that it takes some of the pressure away. A loved one will be able to help you put things into perspective and reassure you. However, if you decide to talk to one of your peers, it is important not to compare your capabilities with theirs. Everyone has different strengths, and comparing yourself to a friend will just add to your stress levels. It also has the potential to make you feel bitter.
If you’re suffering from exam stress, you will need to consult a doctor and they can prescribe medication to help manage it. However, there are natural, alternative products that can help to calm you and minimise your stress levels. Most pharmacies stock alternative health products like Bach Rescue Remedy. Whilst these products are available for general sale, it is still worth talking to a pharmacist if you have any health conditions, allergies or concerns so they can advise you accordingly.
Aromatherapy is also worth considering. Sprinkling a few drops of lavender oil on a pillow can calm you and help you to sleep. Alternatively, you could put a few drops of lemon balm onto a handkerchief to inhale throughout the day as this can help to increase mental clarity.
A panic attack is a frightening thing, but in most cases they aren’t as dangerous as they feel. Panic attacks are caused by adrenaline as your body perceives your worries as a threat and goes into “fight or flight” mode. When this happens, your body tries to take in more oxygen so your breathing will quicken and the adrenaline your body releases will cause your heart to beat faster and your muscles to tense up. They usually last for between 5-20 minutes and the symptoms can include:
- Heart palpitations (feeling like your heart is beating too quickly)
- Sweating and trembling
- Feelings of choking
- Pain in the chest
If you do have a panic attack, you must try and keep as calm as possible. Focus on slowing your breathing as this will alleviate the other symptoms and the sensation will pass. It’s common to feel tired and drained after a panic attack, but if your panic attack lasts longer than 20 minutes and you still don’t feel well afterwards or the chest pains remain, you should consult a doctor.
The most important thing is to remember that exams are naturally stressful times and you’re not alone in feeling stressed. There’s only so much revision you can do, so don’t be too hard on yourself. If you feel like you’re not coping with the stress then speak to a doctor or pharmacist.
(image courtesy of inmyheadcase.com)