Studying for tests and exams is a stressful time, we know. Not only do you want to do well, but there’s pressure from your parents/caregivers and even peers to achieve the required results. And with The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) reporting a significant increase in students and learners calling their helpline over exam periods, exam stress is real and needs to be addressed or we could face tragic consequences.
Here are seven practical tips to help you cope with exam stress:
1. Manage your study time effectively
As mentioned in a previous article , as soon as you receive your exam timetable, put a study schedule together. Knowing you have a plan (with enough time to revise everything) will give you a sense of control. Ticking off each day is also a great motivator! Make your schedule realistic and be sure to schedule in personal time too.
2. Learn to practise mindfulness
Mindfulness is the art of being fully present in the moment and the task at hand. It helps the mind focus and reduces anxiety, stress and negative emotions. A few ways of practising mindfulness are meditation and yoga. Here’s a simple guide to get you started.
3. Healthy body, healthy mind
Eating properly, exercising and getting enough sleep will go a long way in reducing anxiety and re-energising the mind. Make sure you are eating a balanced and nutritious diet, try to exercise at least half an hour every day and get at least eight hours of sleep a night.
4. Have a stress-free study environment
Your place of study (be it your room at home, the study, or the library) needs to be as facilitative as possible. Keep clutter, background noise and distractions to a minimum. (Stay tuned for a future article on how to achieve the perfect study environment.)
5. Believe in yourself
Often just telling yourself “I CAN do this” is all you need to squash anxious thoughts and emotions. According to counselling psychologist and life coach Kerry Acheson, you should observe what happens with your thoughts, feelings and body when you are anxious and replace these ‘negative’ thoughts with positive ones. “Putting affirmation statements up around the house can help,” Acheson says. She also advises that you remind yourself of challenges you have overcome in the past, and then apply them to your current situation.
6. Figure out what makes you cope better
Some people cope better by tackling the situation head-on, whereas others might cope better by managing the emotional stress of the situation. According to Acheson, this is known as problem-focused coping versus emotion-focused coping. Problem-focused coping is figuring out exactly what is stressing you out and then taking practical steps to removing the stressor, whereas emotion-focused coping is reducing the anxiety associated with the problem. For example:
Problem-focused coping: the incessant drilling outside your house is stressing you out, so you go to the library to study. Problem solved.
Emotion-focused coping: you’re anxious about the amount of studying you have to do, so you decide to go for a walk to clear your head. But the ‘problem’ will still be there when you get back.
While problem-focused coping resolves the anxiety in its entirety, emotion-focused coping can be counter-productive. The walk to clear your head could leave you refreshed and ready to tackle the next study session, but excessive avoidance of the problem such as watching too much TV is not the answer. Both methods have their merits; you just need to figure out what works for you.
7. Ask for help
There is absolutely no shame in asking for help. If you feel you are not coping and are feeling overwhelmed, reach out to your family, a friend, or the counsellors at your school or place of education. You don’t need to go through this alone.