Mental Health Awareness Week (Anxiety, mental health, tips on how to de-stress during exam stress).

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Hello  all,

As a good deal of the college will be sitting exams, I know from experience that this can be a stressful time and stress does not help get you good marks or perform your best in exam situations. Therefore, as part of mental health awareness week I thought it might be useful to write about some of the signs of stress and ways of reducing anxiety leading up to your exams or deadlines.

Stress and anxiety are common during the exam period; with many students experiencing it. Some of the signs of anxiety and stress include but are not limited to

–          Patchy sleep or sleepless nights

–          Irritability or short temper

–          Stomach butterflies

–          Poor appetite, or comfort eating or snacking

–          Tendency to drink more alcohol or smoke more.

One of the key ways to reduce your anxiety is to start early with your revision, it is recommended that you should give yourself about 6 weeks, but take into account where you are in your studies and how many exams you have. Basically give yourself enough time to do yourself justice.

A key thing to remember is that revision is just that, it is about seeing something again and again and refreshing your knowledge. It is not about new work but as long as you have kept a steady pace throughout the year, your revision should be relatively straightforward. Additionally, if you have less than 6 weeks then you need to be realistic about what you can achieve. Remember, for a start that you only need to know a limited amount, so check with your lecturers and on blackboard to identify core material or substantive topics. If you think that stress can seriously impact your performance, do something about it sooner rather than later. Speak with a friend, a tutor or someone from the Wellbeing team as soon as possible. Give yourself ample time to work out a solution.

There are four steps that you can implement that can make managing your anxiety or exam stress a bit easier:

1. Plan your Revision

–   Set aside plenty of time for revision

–   Sift through previous work and notes and focus on the essential materials

–   Don’t’ be afraid to re-write and condense your notes.

–   Rehearse questions that you think will come up in your exams- look at previous exam papers where possible.

–   Ask for help if you are unsure of a concept or something related to your course.

–   Don’t sit and read for long periods of time- it quickly becomes dull and your concentration will wane.

–   Revise using different methods. Mixing up revision techniques can really help to solidify concepts and develop skills (such as essay writing). I remember when I used to revise for exams I would make flash cards of notable theoretical concepts, studies and scholars. I would then ask my friends to test my knowledge. I would also practice essay writing under timed conditions; quiz my friends on certain concepts. I would also look at questions and develop a skeleton answer as well as reading over my textbooks. This variety helped enhance my skills and develop my learning. So variety is the spice of revision!

 2. Take proper breaks

–   Do not study 24/7 for an exam- it will wreck you.

–   Try dividing your day into 3 parts and revise for 2 of them and when on your rest break go far away from your desk to give yourself some space.

–   Plan one day a week to be free from revision.

–   Break up your day with other activities such as housework, exercise or just going for a walk.

–   Keep up with some of you extra-curricular activities, to ensure you continue to socialise and take breaks from revision.

–   Get support from friends, family, partners etc.- they won’t mind and would be happy to help.

–   Remain healthy- healthy body = healthy mind.

–   Avoid energy drinks or caffeine pills- although these things promise endless energy, there is usually a downside and during your exam period is not the time to find out.

–   Exercise regularly- again reinforcing the healthy body, healthy mind mantra.

–   Seek out the wellbeing service as they may be able to teach you breathing techniques or means of keeping calm in times of stress.

–   Our brains require energy and rest- so eat little and often (it may help if you don’t have a big appetite, as smaller portions of food may be more manageable and more appealing).

–   Opt for quality food such as wholemeal bread, pasta, nuts, fruit and lots of vegetables.

–   Drink plenty of water and some real fruit juices.

–   Make sure you wind down after your revision for at least an hour before going to sleep.

3. Don’t panic the night before

–   Learn in advance how to relax; then you will feel confident that if you panic in the exam room or your mind goes blank, that you can regain control and focus.

–   Try using humour to defeat negative thinking- watch a good film, read a comic or magazine or watch/ listen to your favourite comedian/ comedienne.

–   Do your best to be well prepared

–   Despite how anxious you may feel, try to avoid working too close to the exam such as the night before of the morning of. Do something relaxing, take a walk or have a bath or meet with a friend.

–   Make sure you eat something, even if you feel sick. Things like bread, crackers or cereals are good if your stomach is upset.

–   Make sure you know where and when your exam is. Try not to arrive too early or too late at your exam venue. Seeing and speaking to other anxious students will only raise your anxiety, but in the same vein arriving late may also increase your anxiety.

–   Have your equipment ready to take with you. Make sure you have ample pens that work, rulers, sharpened pencils and that your calculator does not need a new battery.

–   Have some light reading to look over while you are waiting to go into the exam, but leave your text books and extended notes at home.

4. Reduce your stress and anxiety in the exam room-  you have sat down in the exam room or hall and you feel your panic starting to develop.

–   Make yourself comfortable- have you been to the toilet? Check you are not too hot or too cold and adjust your clothing appropriately- I know personally, I used to get cold in exams so would layer up to make myself feel comfortable. Do you have a drink handy? Especially if it is hot you don’t want to impede your performance because you are dehydrated.

–   Take some deep breaths or sighs to reduce your tension; you may even like to close your eyes for a while. Once you feel calm- then turn over your exam paper.

–   Once the paper has been turned over- most people feel tense at this point- whatever preparation you have done, your task now is to try your best.

–   Take your time to read through your all the questions and instructions carefully (you don’t want to drop marks because you misread the question in a panic). Reread the questions at least twice to make sure you understand what the questions are asking and requiring.

–   Pick out the questions that relate well to your revision (if possible), don’t rush as this choice can pay dividends in the end.

–   Plan your answers- this is really important- spending five minutes on a plan and rough notes will help your answers and thoughts to flow nicely.

–   Focus on your own work and tune out everyone else around you. This is not easy but it helps.

–   Manage your time! Keep an eye on the time, so that you make sure that you have enough time for your final answers and checking over your work. If you do not have enough time for your final answer make a skeleton answer in note form because at least then you have put something down.

–   Avoid perfectionism, it is good to check over your answers for grammar and punctuation but no one is expecting perfectly posh prose.

These steps should make your exam stress manageable and hopefully make future exam situations less stressful. Ensuring you have proper breaks and structuring your time well stands you in good stead during your exams. If you feel as though you are struggling it is definitely worth speaking to someone; this does not necessarily have to be a professional, sometimes speaking with friends can help. I hope this post is useful and good luck to everyone who will be sitting exams in the near future!!!

Thank you for reading!

Joanna Wolton

Joanna Wolton

I am a PhD student in the Centre for Innovative Ageing within the College of Human and Health Sciences. I hope this blog is insightful and gives you some tips and information about what it is like to be a student living in Swansea.

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