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If you find that you are feeling more and more stressed as exam time gets closer, you shouldn’t feel alone. Almost everyone finds exam season stressful – some people are just better at hiding it than others. Others are also better equipped to deal with the stress of assessments and examinations – and this article has a collection of different ways to do just that. It isn’t going to magically go away, but with some tactics and techniques, you might find it easier to manage.
You may have heard that listening to classical music can help you study better – and it’s true! There’s research from various sources that has agreed that appropriate music can make a real difference. In 2011, researchers from the Université de Caen Normandie in France found that students who listened to particular classical music excerpts in the background of a lecture absorbed more information. Other research has more generally shown that listening to classical music can help make anxiety more manageable. Combine the two, and you get the perfect solution for dealing with your exam stress.
But not all classical music is created equal. This has nothing to do with personal preferences and everything to do with specific rhythm and tonal patterns. So don’t just reach for anything and hope that it will work. Think Brahms and Bach, rather than Rachmaninoff and Rimsky Korsakov. Mozart is always a safe option too. You want something gentle and pleasant, rather than something loud and aggressive – or else you might just stress yourself out more. Here’s a great playlist on Spotify to get you started!
The Pomodoro Technique is a useful method to consider if you find that you struggle to keep studying and concentrating for long periods of time. There is little point in spending hours on end reading a textbook is you keep re-reading the same page because you can’t concentrate properly!
1. Choose what task you will focus on
2. Set your Pomodoro timer for 25 minutes
3. Spend those 25 minutes fully focused on your task
4. When the timer rings, put a tick on a piece of paper
5. If you have fewer than four ticks, take a five minute break, and then repeat from step two
6. If you have already got four ticks, take a longer break – up to 30 minutes – and then start all over again with a fresh set of ticks
What do you do with that five minute break? It’s always good to stand up from your wherever you are sitting and take a quick stroll – perhaps to the kitchen to get a glass of water and a snack, or to the bathroom, or just around the room a couple of times to stretch your legs and get blood flowing.
If you really need to relax and unwind from a particular stressful 25-minute session, try a few gentle desk or office exercises. There are even specific yoga poses designed to be suitable for an office environment – so you can stretch without making people think you’re very odd. There’s a simple article over on Huffington Post with some suggestions.
The best thing is that these days, with an app for everything, you don’t even need to worry about finding a timer or a piece of paper for your tick marks. There are a few different app options to choose from, with the main decision to make whether you want something on your computer or on your phone. Software company Zapier rounded up some of the best Pomodoro apps out there at the moment, so check them out!
Nobody is at their best on an empty stomach. It’s especially hard to do any productive work or revision while you’re hungry. But some foods are better than others when it comes to getting energy to focus on your study.
The best news is, one great option for something that’s both a treat and useful is dark chocolate! Do make sure it’s proper dark chocolate though, not milk chocolate – and definitely not white chocolate. Dark chocolate contains a small amount of caffeine, just like coffee or tea – and it also contains magnesium. With those two substances alone, you will experience greater mental alertness and a heightened and de-stressed mood. Enjoy a few squares of good dark chocolate and know that it’s doing good as well as tasting good!
Nuts are also great brain food. Almonds are particularly excellent, with lots of fibre and vitamin E as well as magnesium and manganese. Brazil nuts, cashews, peanuts and hazelnuts are all great too – and even pecans, pistachios and walnuts are all part of the healthy nut family. A small handful of almonds or cashews will be just the pop of energy you need to get you through your next stretch of study.
When it comes to berries, blueberries are the best of the best. They are full of antioxidants and can help with both concentration and memory – important things when it comes to successful study! The best thing is, of course, they are delicious. Eat them fresh from the market, or even pop some in the freezer and use them as delicious and nutritious ice cubes for a glass of water or juice!
If you’re after a hot drink, coffee will give you a caffeine kick – but green tea is even better. Not only does it contain caffeine, but it also contains a special little thing called L-theanine, which helps keep you mellow and actually releases the caffeine more slowly, allowing you to enjoy its effects for longer. Why not combine the healthy elements of green tea with the goodness of blueberries as mentioned above, and grab a packet of blueberry green tea? Delicious and sure to keep you going.
If you are really struggling with a lot of stress and anxiety, don’t stay silent and suffer alone. If there is a family member or friend that you feel comfortable talking to about the stress that you’re feeling, you will likely feel much better after doing so. Even if they don’t have any new advice, knowing that you are understood and heard can make a huge difference.
Sometimes it can be hard to open up about something that you are struggling with to those you are close to. In those situations, you may find it helpful to find someone else to talk to. Many universities have free counselling services that you can use – they are confidential and managed by professional therapists who are there to help. If that is too difficult, even one phone call can help. Youthline provide a phone counselling service for young people. You can call them on 0800 376 633 or visit www.youthline.co.nz for more information and resources.
As much as it can seem like a good idea to stay up late and spend hours and hours each night studying harder and harder, the reality is that if you aren’t getting enough sleep, all of your hard work may be a waste of time. There is the obvious benefit of getting more energy for the next day – rather than relying on energy drinks to get you going – but there are also important things going on inside your body while you sleep.
Research suggests that while we are asleep our long-term memories get properly stored. So all that information that you are pushing into your brain during the day might just disappear the next day if you don’t get enough sleep for your body to do its important night-time work.
Beyond talking to those around you about the struggle you are having with stress, there are other ways to begin dealing with that stress. One easy, useful – and a bit silly – way to do this is to pop bubble wrap! You know the stuff – the clear plastic bubbled sheets that delicate items will be wrapped in before they are transported. Just grab a sheet and get popping – it’s surprisingly helpful. Whether you go for one bubble at a time, row by row, or scrunch the roll between your fists so it sounds like fireworks popping off, after you’ve made your way through a sheet of the stuff, you’ll feel a little bit lighter. Can’t find any at home? Stationery shops and post offices will all sell it – and there’s even a virtual version online.
Got a room to yourself and some good speakers or headphones? Have a one-person dance party! It’s amazing how refreshed you can feel after having a wild dance around for ten or fifteen minutes. Once you catch your breath, you’ll be ready to hit the books again. Make sure you pick something upbeat and silly for best effects.
Relaxing meditation is an excellent way to get in touch with your calm side and bring you back down from a stress scare. It’s even better if you add it into your daily routine, so that you have the tools at hand when you feel that stress building up inside you.
You can start things off in a simple way, with deep breathing. Breathe in through your nose and feel your chest and stomach fill and rise. Hold it for a few seconds, and then release and repeat. This simple act can calm a fast heart rate and give your brain more oxygen.
When it comes to meditation, there are many resources online that can help, but one of the best options is a good app for your phone. That way, you have it with you wherever you are, and you can just put on your headphones and work through the exercise. Two good options are Headspace and Calm. Both of them do have a higher price than many basic apps, but they also both have a free trial option, so you can try them out and see if they work for you.
Everyone finds exams stressful – you’re not alone. Find the things that work for you and put them in place to handle those pressures – and good luck!