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As May approaches, exam season is drawing closer and for many, the stress is starting to build. Exam season is stressful by nature and anyone involved can easily fall victim to the pressures of the season. While there is no magic wand that can be waved to eradicate stress, there are things that can be done to make the time pass more smoothly.  

What is Stress?  

In a nutshell, hormones are to blame. Our bodies release stress hormones in response to events that we do not like or are not comfortable with, these hormones trigger a physical response and we feel stressed. A more familiar term for this may be the fight or flight response. The issue with exams, however, and the reason that they are such a stressful time for students, parents and teachers alike, is the fact that we cannot run away from them, and we certainly cannot fight them.  

When we simply have to deal with the stressor and trudge through until we reach the other side. But this is when problems can arise. This is only the biology of why exams are stressful; add in the nervous chatter, internal and external pressures, targets to meet and increasingly tough boundaries and you have a ticking stress timebomb, ready to explode at any minute.  

Signs to look out for 

Whether it may be in yourself or in your child, these are some signs that exams may be piling on a little too much pressure*:  

  • Changes in sleeping pattern and appetite 
  • Avoiding conversations and situations relating to exams 
  • Procrastination 
  • A lack of interest in things that were once enjoyed 
  • Increased anxiety 
  • Feeling ‘lost’  
  • A lack of motivation or feeling burnt out 

What can be done to tackle exam stress? 

While it is easy to become stressed during exam season, it is also easy to combat that stress and feel calmer and more clear-headed as the final weeks approach. Lots of sleep and a good diet are no-brainers for staying level, but sometimes they’re not enough on their own. Here are some more proven methods of combatting stress:  

  • Organisation 

Have a clear timetable and a clean workspace when preparing for exams. Clutter and sporadic working timetables can wreak havoc with an already stressed mind and the old sayings ring true. Tidy desk, tidy mind.  

  • Make breaks your friend 

There is so much guilt surrounding having a break, especially amongst revising students. Often, a break is just what the doctor ordered and a day or even an hour off from revision and work can work wonders. There are many study methods such as the Pomodoro technique that can boost both productivity and mood. The thing that all the techniques have in common though is breaks. Regular breaks refresh your brain, and allowing yourself to switch off and do something you enjoy for a little while can make a world of difference to how you feel. Regular breaks also decrease the likelihood of burnout and procrastination. 

  • Talk it out 

The number one way to show stress who’s boss is to talk about it. No matter the issue, talking about the things that are stressing us takes the power away from those issues. Furthermore, by talking to someone about stress, often we begin to realise they the person we are speaking to can relate and through shared experience, a support network can begin to build. Support is the key to overcoming obstacles, and a team of people who will still be on your side no matter what can hugely help to take a load off your mind.  

  • Mindfulness, breathing and acceptance 

Mindfulness is not just a trend, for many, it is a way of life and has made a difference to thousands of people suffering from anxiety and chronic stress. The foundations lie in living in the now and accepting that the past cannot be changed and we cannot know what is coming in the future, so we must be comfortable in the present.

In relation to exams, mindfulness is a brilliant tool in its ability to loosen the hold that stress has. No one knows exactly how exams will pan out. No one knows what the papers will be like. No one can go back and do or undo work done in the past. But, accepting that what is done in the here and now is the best you can do can be quite comforting. You can also include meditation and breathing exercises into mindfulness practice and there are hundreds of books and apps that explain how it all works.  

Student, parent, or teacher, these tried and tested stress management methods can make a difference. If you or someone you know is feeling the heat this exam season, try some of these methods out, find out what works for you, and see in the season with coolness, confidence and clarity.  

It is important to remember, especially for students, that no matter how tough exam time can be, it will end. In the grand scheme of things, the time spent doing exams is barely anything at all. While it is all very real right now, it will all be over soon and no matter the outcome, life will still go on and there is always a plan B.  

If you know someone who is feeling stressed about exams, feel free to share this post with them to let them know that the stress will pass and that they have support.  

*(Note:- This is not an extensive list of symptoms and any changes in health and behaviour should be taken seriously and medical advice should be sought in the event of any concerns.)  

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