5 effective ways to manage stress during exam season - CCCG
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5 effective ways to manage stress during exam season

Here are some essential ways to look after your mental health while taking end-of-year assessments and exams.

With exam season upon us, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Whether you’re taking A Level courses or coming to your end-of-course assessment, the prospect of retaining lots of information and performing under pressure can cause stress levels to rise.

That’s why it’s more important than ever to think about ways to manage stress and look after your mental health. This week is also Mental Health Awareness Week (13-19 May), so we’ve put together 5 ways to recognise, manage and relieve stress during exam season.

5 effective ways to manage stress during exam season

1. Notice how exam stress affects you

Before we even get started trying to tackle stress, it’s good to think about how it shows up in our minds and bodies. Are you feeling exhausted and restless or are you simply avoiding your revision?

Here are some of the typical ways that exam stress can affect people.

Emotions or feelings

Exam stress and play havoc with your emotions. You might be feeling any combination of the following:

  • Anxious, overwhelmed
  • Upset, teary
  • Easily annoyed, frustrated, angry
  • Bored, uninterested, lacking in energy, exhausted
  • Disappointed, embarrassed, lacking in confidence, confused

Physical responses to stress

Stress can also manifest physically, and you might find that you notice that your body feels different. You may experience:

  • Headaches, dizziness, blurred vision
  • A racing heartbeat
  • Changes in eating habits, loss of appetite, feeling sick, stomach pain
  • Struggling to focus, being forgetful
  • Feeling restless or tense
  • Trembling or shaking, sweating a lot
  • Feeling tired, difficulty sleeping or waking up
5 effective ways to manage stress during exam season

Stress-related thought patterns

You may find that your mind wanders off or that you’re experiencing self-doubt or fear.

It’s common to experience:

  • Self-doubt and negative self-talk
  • Fear of failure
  • Comparing yourself to others
  • Fear of disappointing yourself or others
  • Feeling like you can’t cope with what’s facing you

Behaviour linked to stress

Stress can make us act a little differently too, and it’s common for people experiencing exam stress to do the following:

  • Avoiding revision and exam planning
  • Struggling to manage day-to-day tasks
  • Lose motivation
  • Not do things you usually enjoy, or not enjoying them as much
  • Forget to take breaks and work too much

Stress is a natural response to pressure and can often help motivate us to complete the tasks at hand, but if any of these responses feel like they’re taking over, then don’t be shy about asking for help. Stress can also make existing mental health problems feel more difficult to manage. If you’re struggling to cope, don’t sit on it. 

For Capital City College Group (CCCG) students, the Support and Wellbeing team are ready to help. Organisations like Young Minds and The Mix offer great advice and insight based on the experiences of other young people about exam stress. Childline, Saneline and Samaritans are ready to provide support when things get too much. Remember that you can also contact your GP for an appointment with a doctor.

5 effective ways to manage stress during exam season

2. Stay connected 

When times get tough, it’s tempting to hunker down until it’s all over – but that can be lonely. It’s important to remain connected to family and friends as they’re often the best people to distract you when you need to unwind.

If you have friends or classmates who are also in the thick of it, take a moment to check in on each other. Your peers will be able to empathise and sometimes a chat about a shared experience is the best way to air your worries. You may even want to buddy up and study together. Some studies show that revising with others helps you absorb information effectively, and then of course there’s the added benefit of feeling connected and supported.

If you’re anxious about one aspect of your exams in particular, find a teacher, friend or family member whose advice you value and talk it through with them. It’ll help to get it off your chest, and they may be able to offer useful suggestions to help you tackle it.

It’s not always easy to start a conversation about what you’re experiencing. You may find it useful to try out these sentences:

  • Can we talk for a bit? I’m finding things difficult and my exams are getting on top of me.
  • I’ve been struggling with my exams and I’m feeling overwhelmed. Can I talk to you about it?
  • I’m finding my exams stressful.3. I don’t think I need solutions, but I’d like to talk and get some things off my chest.
  • I’m really feeling the pressure of these exams and just need to talk to someone about it. Can I vent in your direction for a bit?
5 effective ways to manage stress during exam season

3. Eat, sleep, breathe and move.

This should be your exam-season mantra. Eat, sleep, breathe and well. 

Eat (and drink)

What you eat can affect how you feel in exam season, and eating certain foods may even improve your exam performance.

  • Don’t skip meals as this can cause your blood sugar levels to drop, which negatively affects your ability to focus
  • Stock up on slow-release carbs such as oats, whole-grain bread, brown rice and pulses
  • Boost your brain power by upping your intake of Omega-3 by eating oily fish and seafood
  • The fibre in fruit and vegetables helps your body to release energy more consistently so embrace your favourite fresh produce. Think about getting in some leafy greens for iron and boost your vitamin C with oranges or kiwis
  • Drink less caffeine and more water. Water helps maximise focus so hydrate your brain!
5 effective ways to manage stress during exam season

Sleep

Lack of sleep affects your memory and slows your ability to respond quickly to things. That said, getting your 8 hours can be tricky when you’re stressed.

  • Heavy evening meals can interfere with your sleep so eat at least 3 hours before bedtime
  • Steer clear of caffeine at least 4 hours before bed (or longer if you know you’re sensitive to its effects)
  • Put your devices away at least an hour before you go to bed
  • Try to get 8-9 hours of sleep a night

Breathe

We take it for granted so often, but something as simple as taking a breath can be incredibly effective in managing stress. 

  • Our breath changes when we’re stressed and anxious, often becoming shallow, fast and irregular
  • You can find your breath in yoga, through mindfulness activities such as meditation, or simple breathing exercises
  • Recalibrating the rhythm of your breath can bring down your heart rate and stimulate the vagus nerve, enabling you to calm your nervous system
  • Doing regular breathing exercises trains your nervous system and helps build long-term resilience against stress

Move

Regular physical movement is known to have a positive effect on mental health and well-being – so much so that it’s the main theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week.

Sitting at a desk or in front of a screen for long periods of time can make you feel lethargic, so combat that by moving your body.

  • Aim to do 30 minutes of movement each day
  • Get outside if you can – your brain and body will benefit from a change of scene
  • If you can’t hit the gym or your usual sports club, try something different – a walk to the shops, a run around the park, a yoga video, a 15-minute kitchen dance party – whatever you can manage will be worth it
5 effective ways to manage stress during exam season

4. Take breaks and plan treats

Revising non-stop is not the most effective way to get through it all. Plan out your revision timetable and make sure that your working day has a start and end point. Be sure to factor in breaks every hour or so to give yourself a mental and physical rest. Use your breaks to do something you actively enjoy – go for a walk with your favourite podcast or playlist, create something, kick a ball around the garden, chat to a friend or make yourself something delicious to eat.

Having something to look forward to is also highly motivating, and treats don’t need to be expensive. You can reward yourself with your favourite snack, a refreshing shower or a relaxing bath – whatever feels like a treat for you. Although it can be tempting to go online to play or scroll, try to destimulate your brain by doing something that moves you away from your study area or screens and gives your eyes a rest.

5 effective ways to manage stress during exam season

5. Be kind to yourself

Exam season is the time when we’re most likely to compare ourselves to others, whether it’s asking how much someone else has revised or finding out which essay question they went for. If you find post-exam talk stressful, then be kind to yourself. Let your classmates know that dissecting the paper after the exam is not something you want to do.

Finally, think about how far you’ve come and what you’ve already achieved. Remain proud of your efforts and nudge out negative self-talk with more positive truths. If you find yourself thinking “I’m going to fail this exam,” replace that thought with “I’ve worked hard in this area and now have a better understanding of X. I can be proud of that.”

Exams are stressful – there’s no denying that. But they’re also good preparation for the stresses of life after your studies. Finding effective ways to manage stress is an ongoing investment in your mental health, not just for exam season, but for life.

If you’re a CCCG student struggling with exam stress, contact the Support and Wellbeing team at your college. It’s what they’re there for.

Alternatively, you can reach out to Young Minds, The Mix, Childline, Saneline and Samaritans for support and guidance.

We wish all Capital City College Group students the best as we enter exam season! We want you to do your best but, more importantly, we want you to stay healthy.

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