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How to look after your mental health during exams

May 20, 2022

As exam season creeps up, I think we, as students can all say that we’re stressed, as a student myself I’m the first to advocate to putting your mental health first during this difficult time. Mental health is one of the most important things to prioritise during final season, as it plays a role in […]

As exam season creeps up, I think we, as students can all say that we’re stressed, as a student myself I’m the first to advocate to putting your mental health first during this difficult time. Mental health is one of the most important things to prioritise during final season, as it plays a role in our ability to concentrate and excel in our studies.

Depending on your work load as well as the type of individual you are, the below tips can help you dedicate some of your time in keeping your mental health in check in order to ace your exams and come out of finals happy and healthy!

1) Manage your time.

We have all heard it before, “just plan your day accordingly, don’t be lazy, and prioritise… blah blah blah” it is always the same thing! However, people do not realise that this is not always easy for everyone; myself included.

What I found that works is, as soon as I get up and have my morning coffee I create a short and realistic to-do list, the key word being: REALISTIC! Know how much you can do in a day, if you add too much you will be overwhelmed, so keep it simple. You can create a to-do list for the hour, the day, the week etc.…

Time management is an excellent tool in minimising anxiety and stress, it’s also a great reward system, as you see yourself removing things from your to-do list or plan and you’ll feel accomplished and motivated!

In your list make sure to include activities that help relieve stress, some examples include:

– a 5 minute stretch

– a sip of water

– dancing to your favourite song

This may seem silly, but, by including small activities, your stress level lowers, and it’s a small break from your work.

2) Surround yourself with positivity.

I know this may sound confusing, what kind of positivity? Friends? Good food? Cat videos?! The great thing about this tip is that you can choose what suits your needs. Not everyone is an extrovert, so saying things like “join a study group” or “hang out with friends during break time!” isn’t always helpful.

Find what makes you smile, is it calling your family you miss back home? Or is it sitting in bed with a bag of chips watching your favourite TV show? The important thing is not punish yourself for wanting to do these things during finals! Remind yourself it’s healthy to take a break and do things which increase your serotonin — a neurotransmitter responsible for your emotions.

I used to penalise and hate myself for doing things that made me happy during exam season, I thought I was being unproductive and lazy, what I didn’t see is that without incorporating a moderate amount of the things that relax me into my day, my work wasn’t getting finished as fast!

3) Take control of what goes into your body!

Personally, the hardest thing for me to do was cook healthy and not buy ready-made or delivered meals during exams. It was easier to not stress about what I’m going to make.

When I decided to change that though, my mental health skyrocketed. I never realised how different foods I put into my body changed my mood until I decided to eat better.

Cooking at home doesn’t have to be time-consuming or difficult! I’m a terrible cook and hate cooking, what worked for me was meal planning.

I found some simple & healthy meal planning recipes online, cooked them, placed into containers and popped them in the fridge, every three days I’d repeat the process. Easy meals whenever I needed!

Of course, mishaps happen and this is not always realistic, buying a sandwich from the university’s cafe or skipping breakfast isn’t something to hate yourself for, just make sure you recognise these patterns and correct them. At the end of the week reward yourself with any meal you want!

4) Keep busy, don’t overthink!

Overthinking is a big cause of failure; during finals, it’s important to keep your mind busy with positive thoughts and productivity.

Intrusive thoughts can creep in and cause you to panic and fall off track, by keeping yourself occupied with for example; your work, exercise and social life can push these bad thoughts away.

Stress to a certain degree is normal and sometimes necessary to do well, don’t completely push these thoughts aside, instead — when you feel panicked tell yourself “okay, I’ve fallen behind on my work, what can I do to ensure I get back on track?”

Talk to yourself! Find a solution, once you know what you have to do, do it! Keeping busy and not letting your mind wonder to “what ifs” and “oh no’s!” really will stop your brain from self-sabotaging itself.

5) Ask for help.

Out of all the tips this is by far the one I mostly recommend. Ask for help! Talk to your student advisor, a friend or family member you trust, or a professor.

There’s nothing wrong with feeling helpless, everyone does at some point. It doesn’t mean you’re a failure or incapable of being independent, it just means you need some advice from someone that might have more experience, or it just means you need to vent and cry to someone about how much uni life sucks!

I love to watch motivational videos on YouTube and read articles online about people going through the same things as me; I feel less alone when I know I’m not the only one struggling.

When I was feeling lost, I emailed one of my favourite professors and she gave me plenty of tips on how to tackle my stress, she really helped me get out of the slump of depression and anxiety I was facing.

Additionally, I’m always open to students that might want to talk to someone regarding the stress they’re facing during finals, we must stick together and not exclude people that might be struggling.

Finding the courage to talk to someone and ask for help can be the hardest thing to do, but the reward is definitely worth it.

Final thoughts…

I really hope these tips will help you succeeding your exams. Mental health should be prioritised, as it really could make the biggest difference.

Good luck everyone!