Pressure to do well in exams can feel overwhelming and too much stress can have a negative effect on mental health.
Feeling a certain amount of anxiety about exams is normal, a small amount of stress can be useful, it can help motivate us to take action and get things done, but sometimes things can get too much and it’s important to recognise if things start to feel overwhelming.
Some common signs of stress can include:
Worrying a lot (this can be about anything, not just exams).
Feeling overwhelmed and exhausted.
Frequent headaches and stomach aches.
Struggling to get to sleep or waking up through the night.
Feeling irritable, more easily angered, upset, tearful.
A change in eating habits – noticing you are eating more or less than usual.
Feeling more negative, hopeless and finding it hard to cope.
Struggling to concentrate or focus on anything, your mind feels too busy.
Feeling anxious, unsettled, or having feelings of dread/panic.
No longer enjoying the things you usually love doing.
If you recognise any of these feelings or are worried that exam pressure is taking over your life, you are not alone, and there are things you can do to help.
Reach out. Let close friends and family know if you are struggling so that they can be there to support you, sometimes just talking to someone can help things feel less overwhelming and keep things in perspective.
Ask for help. Think about any practical support you need and be honest with yourself about it. Speak with your teacher/tutor about any concerns you have so that they can advise you on what support your school, college or university can give.
Connect with others. Perhaps you might like to find a study group or start your own. Working through challenges with other students can be a real boost to how you are feeling.
Don’t compare yourself to others. Whilst the above can be helpful, make sure you are around people who lift you up rather than make you feel rubbish. Remember not everyone studies in the same way, find what works for you.
Prioritise sleep! Sleep is vital for our mental and physical wellbeing, and importantly when we sleep we transfer the events of the day (including what we have studied!) from our short term to our long term memory, so a good bedtime routine is especially important when revising for exams. (Read my blog “sleep in peace wake in joy” for more useful sleep information).
Be kind to yourself. Make a list of all the things you enjoy and make time to do them! Taking time out from revision is really important and will help to improve your mood and reduce stress levels. Time out to relax and unwind is not time wasted. Your health and happiness are important!
Get outdoors for a walk. Exercising and being out in nature both help to reduce stress levels, releasing feel good neurochemicals that boost mood and feelings of wellbeing. (Read my blog “find your happy” for more useful tips on boosting the release of feel good neurochemicals).
Are you a parent and feeling a bit helpless? Here are a couple of good things to try that can help your child/teen at exam time…..or at any time!
What’s been good? – ask this question at family dinner times, or incorporate into your child's bedtime routine - ‘tell me 3 good things about your day’, this helps get their mind into a good place for a stress free evening and a restful and rejuvenating sleep. If they can’t think of anything, you could talk about your 3 good things, perhaps telling them about a beautiful view on your drive to work, the cute dog outside the supermarket, the fabulous colourful wellies of a stranger that you spotted walking by! – it doesn’t have to be anything major, just things that made you smile and feel good.
Embrace the power of positive conversations. Create regular opportunities to reminisce about good memories, share funny stories, sprinkle conversations with talk that emphasises and reminds them how amazing they are! Drop casually within a conversation some of the wonderful things they have done, build up their self-belief!
Why are these types of conversations helpful? Because the human brain is wired to be negative! We all have a negativity bias (from an evolutionary standpoint, our survival depended on this negative bias) so we have to consciously work to redress the balance. Spending time helping our exam stressed teens think about “what’s been good?” and engaging in positive conversations is really helpful. Our internal dialogue is so important to our wellbeing and our happiness, but all too often we can find ourselves repeating patterns of negative self-talk. Especially when feeling under pressure in the lead up to exams! This can become a vicious cycle, increasing feelings of anxiety and stress.....and in turn encouraging yet more negative thoughts and behaviours. Break the cycle!
From a neuroscience perspective, focusing on the positives in our day (even seemingly small things) helps us to exercise and strengthen the intellectual mind, in particular the left pre-frontal cortex, which is associated with OPTIMISM!
And thanks to the power of neuroplasticity our brains are incredibly adaptable, so the more we do this....the easier and more natural it becomes for our brains to notice the “good stuff”, and the more happy neurochemicals get released, helping us to feel good, and enhancing our wellbeing! Even more reason to make this a regular conversation at the dinner table or at bedtime!
On a final note, always remember that exam results do not define you as a person! This has been a wibbly wobbly couple of years for students and you are doing amazing! You have shown strength and resilience beyond measure! You have absolutely got this!!
If exam stress is leaving you feeling overwhelmed and you need support to get back on track Solution Focused Hypnotherapy can help. An enjoyable and empowering therapy that can help you to take back control of your emotional wellbeing and overcome exam stress, boosting self-esteem and self-confidence, and reducing feelings of anxiety and overwhelm. During sessions you gain a wonderful understanding of how the mind works, helping you to understand why you feel the way you do and what you can do to feel better, so that you can approach your exams feeling calm, confident, clear headed, and in control.
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