Writers’ Club Winner: How To Tackle Exam Stress
A little while ago we held a competition for new people to join our Writers’ Club. The winners have been picked and we’re really excited to see them produce new content on Connect, on subjects that matter to them. Over the next few weeks we’ll be sharing their winning pitch ideas so you can get to know them a little better.
This article is by Bethan, who chose to write about the stress that comes with exam season and how to tackle it!
Exams can be a very stressful time for young people. And exam stress is a very common issue. The pressure put on us to do well and succeed in exams can often have a negative impact on our mental and physical health. In this article I’ll explore what causes exam stress, the consequences of it, and how to deal with it and reduce the negative impacts of it.
What is stress and why do we experience it?
Stress is a natural reaction our body produces to keep us safe in the face of danger. Going back thousands of years, to keep us safe in dangerous situations and from predators, our body would release three main hormones - cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrine. These hormones cause increased blood pressure, heightened muscle preparedness, decreased sleepiness, and sweating - all to make the body more alert and prepared so it can respond to the hazardous situation. Although we do not experience the same sort of dangerous situations that our ancestors did thousands of years ago, our bodies still respond in the same way. So when we are faced with the daunting prospect of exams, we often experience stress as a way to deal with our situation.
What are the effects of stress?
Exam stress is often different to other forms of stress as the situation is prolonged and long lasting and not easily resolved. This means that the effects of stress can stay with you for a while. Physically, stress can cause high blood pressure, aches and pains, headaches or dizziness, exhaustion or trouble sleeping, muscle tension, chest pains and stomach or digestion problems. Mentally, stress can cause irritability, frustration, feelings of being overwhelmed, sadness, anxiousness, depression, anger, trouble concentrating, forgetfulness and burnout.
To some extent, stress is healthy and can actually benefit us throughout exams. It makes us alert and awake and can even motivate us to revise or work. However if there is too much stress it can leave us in a bad mental and physical state. Too much stress can make the situation worse as you can struggle to concentrate or sleep, which in turn will probably negatively impact your exams. So it’s important to recognise if your stress has become too serious. If you feel as though you're not coping and you have been significantly stressed out for a long time, you should tell someone you trust and if it continues, seek medical help. There are, however, ways you can handle and cope with your stress before it gets too much…
How to cope with exam stress
Sometimes the most stressful part of exams isn't even the actual exam but the lead up and revision before it. We often don't know how to allocate our time and we don't know if the revision we are doing is effective and if it will work. There is no easy fix, but there are certain steps you can take to reduce your stress. Organising your time is key. An easy way to do this is by planning what days you want to revise, and then writing down what you will revise in half an hour blocks. And don't forget to plan in breaks! This effectively manages your time while making sure you revise all the content and gives time for it all to sink in! It also stops you from procrastinating as you have already allocated your time. Another good idea is to make sure where you’re working is tidy. Keep everything you might need for your exams and revision organised to save you from panicking and forgetting anything.
It is also important to maintain a healthy sleep schedule, throughout the exam period. It is very easy to feel unrest and instability and a good night's sleep is very important for a healthy brain, physical repair and emotional stability. Steps to improve your sleep can be taken such as having a set time to go to bed, not using technology for an hour before you go to bed and improving your sleep hygiene. This means making sure that your space to sleep in has no distractions that will keep you awake longer than you need to be. A good night's sleep will help you deal with stress and manage your emotions a lot better.
It’s also important to take time to relax and not always focus on exams. You can do this by spending time with family and friends, exercising, watching your favourite film, or doing something you love. You could also try relaxation techniques such as meditation, journaling, practising gratitude and breath focus. Another good thing to do is to talk about how you’re feeling with people that you trust. Everyone has probably experienced stress at some point in their life and will be able to share their coping mechanisms with you and give you support! If you don't feel comfortable talking to anyone in your life, don't hesitate to get support from professional services such as Childline.
It's important to acknowledge that not everything works for everyone and that some things may help you and something may not. The key is finding out what works for you. Another important thing to remember is exams are important - but not more important than your mental or physical health. It is about finding the right balance so that you can remain productive but also healthy.