How to stop stressing about exams

How to stop stressing about exams

Sunday, 20 March 2022

It’s not unusual to feel a bit stressed as it comes up to exam time. This can be a good thing sometimes as it motivates us to study. 

For some of us though, exam stress can really interfere with our day-to-day lives and hinder work and concentration levels.

Covid-19 brought about many changes for everyone. Students, in particular, were heavily impacted by the closure of schools and colleges, and this hasn’t helped the last few years.

Don't wait for inspiration

We all have a different approach to learning. For many, self-guided study is not something that comes naturally. It is a skill that can take time and practice to develop.

With exams looming, you may be waiting to feel motivated, but *spoiler* that may never happen. Once you start, you may start to feel sucked in, and without the motivation of an end goal, studying may feel like a pointless chore. Take the example of getting exercise. Often the hardest part is leaving the house and going for a jog or a walk. But afterward, we feel better.

This creates a positive reward cycle and self-guided study is similar. It’s about taking ownership, responsibility, and most importantly, taking back control.

If you are struggling to get down to study, here are some tips to help support you:

Focusing on the present moment by practicing simple mindfulness exercises can help us when worries about the future arise

Exam stress relief activities

  • Routine

Routine provides structure, safety, and familiarity. Think about what might support you to get into a routine. As we said, don’t wait for inspiration. Get started and look at the practical things that can support your study, such as sleep.

Has your sleep pattern changed due to the lockdowns? If it has (which is highly likely), start establishing a healthy sleep routine, to prepare your body and mind. Good sleep hygiene can improve focus, concentration, and mood, all of which can benefit study.

Routine also involves taking breaks, and being active so make time for these as part of your schedule.

  • Procrastinate much?

We’re all guilty of it. Suddenly, it’s really important to do a spring clean, watch all seasons of Friends again for the bagillionth time, or go down a Tiktok rabbit hole.

Doing up a coloured timetable for your wall can definitely help but don’t let this spill over into an interior design project.

  • Create a list of what helps

Make a list of things that supported you while studying previously. Include practical strategies, and include self-care activities. This will help you keep a balance.

  • Keep focused on your (realistic) goal

The stop / start nature of the last few years has understandably drained motivation for many of us.

Is there a particular goal you have for your exams? If so, staying focused on your goal, and what you want to achieve, can help increase motivation.

Take note of what your goals are, and check in. Are they realistic? Being unrealistic with goals can create undue pressure and hinder the work we need to do.

  • Acknowledge any difficult thoughts or feelings

These are ‘challenging times’ has become an overused term, but they are. And they keep coming. It’s OK to not be OK in the face of it. Acknowledging any difficult thoughts or feelings that come up can make it hard to concentrate.

Writing these down may clear your mind of negative thoughts. In doing so, notice your inner voice and avoid being overly critical or hard on yourself.

  • Stay in the now

In times of stress, our minds can race to the worst-case scenarios, which in turn can increase our anxiety. Focusing on the present moment by practicing simple mindfulness exercises helps us when worries about the future arise.

Mindfulness is not for everyone, but there are some simple exercises that can really help. Check out the ACE grounding exercise below.

  • Be kind to yourself

Recognise that there are many challenges and distractions. It is understandable if it’s been hard to keep on top of work.

If you feel you have fallen behind, there’s always an opportunity to catch up. Notice what you have achieved, rather than what you haven’t. Talking to a teacher or lecturer might also help support you in getting back on track.

  • You are not alone

Please remember, you are not alone. We can move forward by continuing to be kind and supportive of one another.

Watch: Ground and steady yourself with the ACE tool

‘ACE’ is a tool that can be useful for grounding yourself if you find that you’re caught up with difficult thoughts or feelings.

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