Exam week can be an incredibly stressful time for students. The pressure to get good results often leads to all-night study sessions, a lack of sleep and too many hours spent hunched over a laptop. This can leave many students feeling burnt out and anxious before their exams have even begun.
If this sounds like you then you’re not alone. In fact, new research by the mental health organisation, ReachOut, shows one-third of Aussie students have reported a spike in mental health impacts that are sparked by study or exam stress.
While feeling a bit nervous before exams is normal, it doesn’t have to become a debilitating problem. To help you relieve stress and perform at your best this exam season, we’ve put together some practical strategies to beat stress with self-care and wellness strategies.
Why do exams cause stress for students?
It’s completely normal to feel stressed ahead of your exams. Usually, it stems from putting pressure on yourself to perform at your best and earn good grades.
Sometimes, feeling a bit of pressure is actually a good thing, because it means that you care about your studies. But, if this pressure becomes overwhelming or you feel underprepared for your exams, you may find it tough to concentrate or focus on revising.
Plus, you might be feeling the ongoing impacts of the pandemic, with classes split between virtual and in-person lessons.
So, what does exam stress feel like? Here are some of the common exam stress symptoms that can be warning signs that you’re experiencing burnout:
- Feeling anxious, sad or irritable
- Butterflies in your stomach
- Clammy hands
- A racing heartbeat and nausea
- Headaches and muscle tension
- Fidgeting, nail-biting and teeth grinding
- Struggling to find the motivation to begin studying
- Sleeping poorly and struggling to get up
- Losing your appetite or comfort eating
- Having trouble making decisions
- Losing interest in your favourite activities and friends
- Feeling confused and having your mind go blank during the exam
Not only is exam stress unpleasant, but it also can impact how well we perform in the exam room, too. Research has shown that high exam stress can lower our attention span and reduce our working memory. Essentially,stress makes it harder to focus on the task at hand and remember all the knowledge we’ve learnt throughout our lessons.
But just because exam stress is common, doesn’t mean we have to accept it. In fact, there are stacks of practical steps we can take to relieve exam stress and feel calm and focused when exam week rolls around.
How to deal with exam stress: 6 simple tips
Create a study timetable and routine
Creating a study routine and timetable can give you a sense of control over your exam preparation.
Start by designating the time you will dedicate to studying and then create some space for meals, exercise, relaxation and sleep.
Set an early bedtime
Getting a good night’s sleep is particularly important during exam time and funnily enough, it’s often the first thing that’s abandoned when you get stressed. As research has shown, a lack of sleep not only impacts your attention and focus, but your memory, creativity and analytical thinking skills. This means that you might want to think about setting yourself an early bedtime during the exam season.
Once you have worked out an exam time routine, you can go a little further and start planning your study sessions. By planning your study sessions in advance, you can be sure that you haven’t missed anything important and feel more prepared for your exam.
Put away distractions
When you sit down to study, it’s important that you clear your space of any distractions to get the most out of your study session. This may mean putting your smartphone in another room or using focus timers like Forest to prevent you from getting distracted.
It’s also important to carve out some time for breaks. Make sure that you have a short 15 to 20-minute break every hour or so and then step away from your desk for a longer break every few hours. This will give your brain the chance to recharge and maintain the stamina needed for a long study session.
Reduce your intake of caffeine and junk food
Your diet has a big impact on your energy, focus and stress levels, and it’s important to be aware of what you’re putting in your body during the exam period.
While it’s common to reach for that extra cup of coffee or energy drink when you’re feeling tired, these caffeinated drinks can sometimes do more harm than good. Research has shown that while caffeine does provide a temporary energy boost, the slump that comes after can make you feel even worse than you felt before.
Sugary foods have the same rollercoaster impact on your energy levels while also weakening your body’s ability to deal with stress. This isn’t ideal during the exam period when you need your focus and energy levels to be more stable than ever.
Instead of reaching for a quick energy or sugar hit, you should try and eat a balanced diet. Meals that are full of healthy fats, proteins and carbs will keep you feeling powered and focused during your study sessions.
Harness the power of aromatherapy
Aromatherapy is one of the easiest and most effective exam stress management techniques.
All you need to do is select a few stress-reducing scents, such as lavender, chamomile or ylang ylang, and smell them during your study and exam sessions.
At home, you can do this by lighting a scented candle and diffusing essential oils in a diffuser. If you’re out and about or in the library, you can apply a scented lotion to your skin or carry a scented stick to use when you’re feeling anxious.
Keep your body moving and feeling its best
Exercise is a powerful tool to boost your endorphins (a.k.a. your feel-good hormones) and lower stress levels at the same time.
In fact, studies show that teenagers who report exercising once a week report lower average stress levels during the school year than teenagers who don’t.
It’s normal to feel like you just don’t have the time to exercise during the exam period but it’s usually worth trying to fit in even a small amount. Whether you go for a morning walk, tune into an online yoga class or even just dance around your room for ten minutes, we can guarantee that you will feel better for it.
Book a massage that comes to your home
Massages are a great way to relieve stress during exams. By carving out some time to focus on your breath, you can dramatically lower your stress levels and reduce the tension throughout your muscles and joints.
But don’t take our word for it. The team from Scape Student Accommodation recently brought in Blys’ experienced mobile massage therapists to provide free massages to their students ahead of exam week. As Jasmine Eastman from Scape explains, “our students are in a busy exam period and studying very hard. By providing massage therapists at all our properties the students were able to take 15 minutes out to rest, relax and rejuvenate.”
If you don’t have the time to get to the day spa, you can book one of Blys’ in-home massage treatments at a time that works for you. This means that you can squeeze in a therapeutic massage session into your hour’s study break without even leaving the house.
If you need to destress before an exam then we recommend booking a Swedish relaxation massage. Designed for stress relief and relaxation, any stressed student will benefit from the tension-relieving strokes and the deep sense of relaxation that comes afterwards.
Reward yourself after a big study session
Studying can be incredibly exhausting and it can be hard to keep your motivation up during the stressful exam period. Sometimes, giving yourself a small reward for all of your hard work can help you stay positive and motivated during the exam season.
Whether it’s watching your favourite movie, having a long bath, getting a manicure, massage or even a facial, prioritising your self-care is an important part of managing stress and staying healthy. This way you can alleviate any post-exam stress and go into your next one feeling your absolute best.
As a student, you can’t exactly avoid exams and stress but you can make them a little more manageable. Just remember to hit the gym, stock up on healthy meals, get out the essential oils and book that massage before the stress hits.