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Staying calm and thinking clearly during exam time

Tips about managing well-being during times of stress and exams.

Written by Lucy Bodenham |

Postgraduate student at home studying for exams
Reduce all stimulants like caffeine.

Mindfulness - change the way you think about experiences by combining breathing and meditation techniques

Years ago Julie got stressed out before her theory exam. She also had this mental block about not being able to do the exam and went into some sort of mini meltdown. So here came the pep talk and support system to prop her up, which is what friends and family are for during times like this.

”All you have to do is just give it a go and whatever the outcome at least you know you tried. Failure is not trying at all,” I said, but then she followed with ”I have a terrible headache” – this was two days before the exam and stress induced – “and I don’t think I will be well enough to write the exam.”

So the next thing was “cut down on the coffee and drink lots of water plus try some meditation and breathing exercises. On the day you will be less nervous and the headache will be gone tomorrow.” Next we looked through the things Julie really had to focus on and then we made a study schedule. A calm of sorts prevailed.

The day came and Julie completed the exam. Later that evening she told me “actually it wasn’t so bad and maybe I succeeded. I don’t know why I was freaking out about it so much.” Time passed with us both waiting with anticipation for examination results.

Well what do you know, she passed her theory exams, not spectacularly but she went on to establish a successful career based on reflexology therapies. The courses she studied in Business Administration and Marketing were particularly useful in the process in establishing her business.

Neither of us has forgotten this little story, just remembering the first thoughts were of failure and not even wanting to write the exams. Do think positive even in periods of stress and, if it all gets a bit too much, find someone to lean on.

Many of us have done exams before, maybe at school – you can do it again. Perhaps this time round, with more hindsight, do better and get the result you really desire. Not always an enjoyable process but you can make it a positive experience with some of the things below which anyone can follow:

  • Reduce all stimulants like caffeine and nicotine.
  • Mindfulness – change the way you think about experiences by combining breathing and meditation techniques.
  • Talk to someone – it really does work, afterwards you will feel better.
  • Manage your time with useful apps or use anything from a paper planner with a pencil to Evernote, you'll be more in control.
  • Yoga – most forms are not strenuous but learning simple things like breathing control is beneficial for health and relaxation.
  • Exercise – a sprint around the park will release feel-good endorphins and banish stress. Remember to allow for at least three hours before sleep to allow your body to cool down properly.
  • Nutrition – eating well enables your brain to perform at optimum levels, choose lots of bright coloured fruit and vegetables.
  • Eat more veg – the ideal now, according to a new research study by UCL’s Dr Oyinlola Oyebode, is to eat 10 portions of fresh vegetables a day.
  • Use apps like Freedom to shut off the internet.
  • Sleep is vital – make sure you get enough!
  • Ten stress busters – more about coping with stress from NHS.
  • If you are in Bloomsbury visit the School of Life –  a small centre and shop devoted to developing emotional intelligence.