With exam time approaching, stress is always a big topic of conversation. It almost seems like an accepted part of taking exams now, but it doesn’t have to be that way!
The first thing to know is that stress is our natural fight or flight response, designed to kick in when we need to take action. Unfortunately, although it’s perfectly normal and natural, it also redirects blood flow from the pre-frontal cortex and hinders intelligent thought so it’s not super helpful for studying and exam time. So what should you do if you feel stressed or anxious?
Start by understanding what your stress is telling you
If your stress response is kicking in, ask yourself if there’s some action you need to be taking right now? Perhaps you are procrastinating and you just need to get down to work or maybe there’s something in the back of your mind that needs your attention. Dig deep and ask yourself, “what’s this really about?” If you are putting something off, just get on and do it and you’ll feel a whole lot better!
Having a good study plan allows you to get on with the work each day without overthinking it. Whether you have weeks or even just a couple of days to go, accept the time you have left and plan accordingly. It can be really useful to ask someone you can trust to stay calm, to help you pull the plan together so that it’s realistic and achievable. Just don’t spend too long on it! Sometimes making a plan feels like taking action and we begin to relax, but the real action is in delivering against the plan!
Stress – the physical output of worrisome thoughts
If you are putting the time and effort into your revision and you are still feeling stressed, notice what thoughts are running through your mind? Stress is essentially the physical manifestation of whatever we are thinking about so it’s most likely that you are having worrisome thoughts about the future. Perhaps you are worrying about things not turning out the way you want them to? Maybe you are worrying that you haven’t studied enough, or you are not feeling confident about your abilities or you just feel under a lot of pressure to do well.
The thing is, as much as there are external pressures we face in life, ultimately the stress you are feeling is coming from the pressure you are putting yourself under. Even when striving to meet other people’s expectations, the pressure still comes from our own pressure to meet these expectations.
If this is the case you need a big dose of being kinder to yourself! You are already doing your best so you need to let go of any need to do more than that. This may seem easier said than done but hopefully these next few points will help….
Be mindful of catastrophising
When we are feeling stressed and our thoughts are running away with us, it’s easy to get caught up in a perpetuating cycle of overthinking. This overthinking can look so true to us in the moment, especially when facing a ‘real’ event like exam time. Just be mindful that you do not have to listen to, or give energy to any thought that is not supporting you in a positive way.
I reminded my son this morning about the two dogs that live in your head. One dog will tell you that you’re not good enough, you can’t do this, it’s not going to work. The other is rooting for you, telling you that you’ve got this. You’re fine, just as you are. You are enough and you’re doing your best. Who you are is all you need to be. Which dog are you going to feed?
All thoughts are neutral, not good or bad, until you activate them and bring life to them, so don’t activate any thought that beats you up! Observe your thoughts and stay impartial. Play with them even! I’ve had many clients begin to giggle when they are feeling stressed and anxious and then they realise “oh, I’m just doing that I’m not good enough thing again aren’t I?’ and all the bad feelings fall away because they aren’t activating them anymore.
You don’t need to know why you have these thoughts because analysing thoughts is a bit like going down a rabbit hole. Full of twists and turns and ultimately leading nowhere! Just be mindful that these thoughts are just that. Thoughts made up by our own imagination. No more real than the dreams you had last night.
Don’t Work Work Work
Make sure you build time into your study plan to take breaks and have fun. Your mind will really benefit from the time off so take a break to see your friends or go for a walk. Being away from screens and close to nature on a bright day can be very grounding and helps to bring us back to our natural peace of mind.
Take time to relax
If your mind is full up of equations, facts and figures make a point of emptying your mind. There is an ancient proverb “The Value of a Cup is in its Emptiness” which means, if your head is crammed full, you can’t get any more in! Take a bath, take a walk or go for a run. Whatever you enjoy doing that will quieten the mind and bring a sense of peace. When you feel ready, go back to your studies from this relaxed place and you’ll be surprised how much more sense it all makes!
Always Keep Perspective
Yes, this is an important time that requires your effort and attention but keep in mind, the world is not going to end if things don’t work out the way you want them to. You are and will remain a uniquely wonderful person with a whole life ahead of you. Give your studies your effort, not your life. You will always be infinitely more than any qualification can bring you.
Talk to someone
If your stress, worry or anxiety is becoming a problem for you, talk to someone you trust about it. Talk to parents, talk to friends or talk to a professional. You’ll be surprised at how many people feel just as you do and are there to support you if you just reach out.
Michelle Chapman | The Elite Partnership | www.theelitepartnership.com
If you would like information about using essential oils to help with exam stress please do contact me, Jo.