As humans, stress is a natural and healthy feeling that everyone will feel at some point in their life. Whether we’re stressed over something tiny or something huge, we will still feel stressed out. Anxiety and stress can show itself in many different ways which will change depending on the person. Some people may show physical signs of being stressed or anxious such as a stomach pain or a headache, poor concentration, sweating and difficulty to get to or stay asleep. Others may seem fine physically when feeling stressed but because of this, stress may also result in feeling angry, frustrated, scared, afraid and uncomfortable. Everyone will react differently to the feeling of stress and everyone will get stressed or anxious as a result of different things. One stressful time that everyone can relate to is exam time. So how do we deal with this stress?
A study done by the Organisation for Economics Co-operation and Development (OECD) revealed that 63% of Irish students felt anxious even when they knew they were well prepared for an exam. It was also found that 46% reported feeling very tense when studying, 10% higher than the OECD student average, so how can students look after their mental health and well-being while still focusing on their grades?
During exams, it is important to keep your well-being a number one priority, your mental health should always come before your grades. If you’re deciding on whether to do an extra hour of study before you go to bed for your big exam the next day, or to get that extra hour of sleep, always choose sleep. The extra hour of study won’t benefit you in any way as you won’t retain the information, however, sleep will keep you sane and allow your body to function properly the next day. This will also help keep your concentration and energy levels high throughout the day. Many students think they can carry on with little, to no sleep, which will ultimately mean they may have studied longer but will end up with a less successful outcome in their exam due to tiredness. Depriving yourself of sleep can in the long run lead to insomnia, in effect, causing long term issues.
A feeling of anxiety or stress will come naturally to everyone at exam time and it is important to know that stress is okay and can actually be beneficial. Too little stress may cause a student to slack and not put the work in to achieve the grades they are capable of. However, too much stress can be detrimental to a student’s mental health which will again affect the grades they get. So, how do you control your stress and ensure it’s the right, healthy amount.
Everyone works best at different times in the day, so figure out when you work best and plan around that. This doesn’t mean working 12 hours a day, as that will lead to being completely burned out, so make sure you schedule in downtime to do things you enjoy. Having a study plan will also make the overwhelming amount of work you think you need to do, seem a little more manageable.
Don’t skip meals to make more time for study. Make sure you’re getting nutritionally balanced meals each day. Stress can often make us feel unwell, but good food is important for our bodies to be able to function properly and actually benefit from the study you do.
After an exam or a long study session treat yourself. Reward yourself for the hard work and allow yourself to feel proud of the way you worked, give yourself the rest of the day to relax and destress your mind, you’ll feel refreshed and ready for what a new day will bring.
If you’re overwhelmed or overly stressed or anxious, tell someone and give them the opportunity to help. Give yourself the opportunity to talk about why you’re so stressed and feeling the way you are. Saying it out loud to someone will help you find ways to reduce these feelings.
Whether it’s keeping up physical activity you did already or taking up a new sport, exercise will always clear your mind and allow you to relax and focus on something else. Playing a sport will keep you focused on what’s going on in the match or training, in return, taking your mind off exams. Doing yoga or meditation will also allow you to focus on your breathing and relax.
Treat yourself like you are your own friend. You would never pressure your friend to study more, or tell them they need to get perfect grades, so tell yourself the same things. Encourage yourself and reward yourself like you would anyone else.
Remember, exams are important, but you and your mental health is so much more valid. Don’t decide your self-worth by the grade you get on an exam, because who you are as a person, is worth so much more than a percentage or a letter grade. Don’t let your mental health deteriorate in order to get that A on your exam because it’s not worth what you’re worth as a person.
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Written by our TY student, Iseult O’Higgins