Are you feeling frazzled knowing exam time is here? Or maybe you leave everything to the last minute, still have to show up for your job and always fall apart by the time you get to STUVAC. Are the people around you noticing differences in your mood? Are you irritable or avoiding friends you enjoyed spending time with in the past?
Soon enough you’ll arrive at exam time, having left things to the last minute, feeling completely underprepared and will find yourself asking, “How did this happen?” or “How did this happen again?”. Be aware however that managing your physical and mental wellbeing throughout exam time is just as important as your exam time preparation.
So how much can stress really impact your exam performance and what can you do about it?
“After a day when a student gets panicked by a pop quiz, he’ll remember the details of that panic far more than any of the material in the quiz” Goleman.
When we panic we tend to have a “fight-or-flight” reaction. The effect of this is restricting our ability to take in new information, with it also heightening emotional reactions.
The stress hormone in your brain called Cortisol, consistently elevates and wares on your brain. Studies show that stress kills brain cells and can wear down the brain’s ability to function properly. Chronic stress has a shrinking effect on part of the brain, impacting your memory and learning capabilities.
But don’t worry, you are not alone. 83% of students reported they suffered from stress. 79% reported anxiety, with 76% experiencing low moods. Headspace in conjunction with National Youth Mental Health Foundation recently conducted a study which surveyed 2600 students nationally. Difficulty sleeping and panic attacks were experienced by over half of the students surveyed.
So where do you start, and what is the best way to manage your exam time preparation?
1. Get back to the basics
- Maintain a regular routine – Getting up and going to bed at a consistent time each day will improve your sleep and improve productivity. Try not to look at your phone (Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram included!) an hour before bedtime.
- Eat well – It fuels your brain. Eat regularly and don’t skip meals.
- Keep active – Make time to still see your friends and keep up with exercising frequently.
2. Make time to plan
- Be realistic, don’t set yourself up for failure by thinking you can do an unrealistic amount of study within one sitting, you will just end up feeling disheartened.
- Reward yourself for staying on track, plan regular breaks/activities.
3. Be mindful and stay in the present
- Bring yourself back to the here and now. Try not to engage in big picture thoughts, such as “What does my future hold?”, or “Have I chosen the right degree?”, during your exam prep time.
- Meditate – recent research from Carnegie Mellon University found the positive effects of practising meditation can be experienced quickly. The study found that adults aged 18 to 30 who participated in a mindfulness meditation training program for just 25 minutes, three days in a row, later reported less anxiety during stress-provoking tasks than another group that did not participate in meditation.
- Apps such as Smiling Mind or Buddhify are worth a look to guide you in your meditation process.
It is not all doom and gloom however. Your brain has a natural ability to recover from stress. The brain’s plasticity means if a stressor is removed or diminished, then it can re-wire itself.
If you are finding it difficult to manage your stress levels by yourself, ask for help. Please Contact Us to learn more on how we can assist with strategies for you to learn to prepare for exam time and manage your stress.
Written by Jennifer Hawken - Clinical Psychologist - www.creatingchange.net.au