Ways to combat exam stress
Exam season is always stressful and although some stress can be motivational, if levels get out of control they can prevent you from achieving your best on the day. Good news! There’s a lot you can do to balance your stress response in the short and long-term.
Keep fuelled! Don’t forget, when revising, your brain will require more energy. You will doubtless feel hungry, so remember to eat healthy food (plenty of fresh fruit & veg, oily fish), snacks and to stay hydrated (more water and less of the caffeine!) Set up a revision timetable, but don’t forget to schedule in breaks. Get up, move around, take in the fresh air and allow the sub-conscious brain to catch-up and assimilate with what the conscious brain has absorbed. Pencil in regular exercise, consider swimming, yoga or Pilates, which also helps to quieten the mind. Or consider downloading a meditation app such as Headspace which offers free basic sessions lasting 5-10mins. Listen to them whilst walking, on the school bus or before going to sleep.
Nutrients to help out
Magnesium can have a calming effect, often lacking in our modern diet and found in high levels in leafy green veg (so get plenty in at mealtimes!) We use up greater amounts of magnesium in times of stress. As a supplement, the best form is powdered, as glycinate. You can also use it as Epsom Salts, in a warm bath – a perfect way to wind down. Or as a spray, rubbed into skin, especially around the neck and shoulders where tension may arise from being hunched over studying.
B Vitamins are a necessary component of a healthy functioning nervous system, found in fresh whole foods (whole grains, fruit, vegetables, legumes and tubers). B complex vitamins are used up rapidly during stress and can help to support a calmer state.
Vitamin C is found in high concentrations in the adrenal glands which help you to deal with stress. Consider drinking the juice of half a lemon in a full glass of water daily to replenish levels and aid the calming effect (use a paper straw or metal to protect teeth enamel).
Ashwanghanda – one of my favourites. Known as an adaptogenic, it aims to create balance. If you are stressed it calms you down and if you are under par, it can perk you up. Take as a capsule.
Getting to sleep
It’s important to wind down, close your laptop, textbook or social media an hour before bed. Take a shower or a bath to help you de-stress and relax. Listen to a meditation app, drink a Night time tea, often containing valerian – which helps with sleep, or a relaxing chamomile tea.
On the day
Pre exam nerves can leave you feeling sick rather than hungry, but it’s vital that you have a little something for breakfast, to provide slow energy release for your brain to access throughout the morning. If the thought of a big breakfast is too much, why not try the smoothie recipe below? Packed with brain-boosting ingredients it’s easy to drink and digest and usually tolerated by even the most anxious gut.
So is it normal to have exam nerves? Well yes, in fact we are hard-wired to feel this way, it’s our body’s natural response. Our heart and mind can race and our breathing quicken, not ideal five minutes before hand! So what can you do? Mindfulness (a.k.a being ‘in the moment’). It aims to stimulate the brain, taking focus away from mind-chatter and instead activating the senses.
Outside the exam room
Make yourself tall, don’t feel small. Raise yourself to your full height, take in a deep breath through your nose and exhale slowly through your mouth. Repeat a few more times, feeling more confident with each breath and restoring the calm.
Look above you
Use your visual sense to notice the sky/trees/birds/colour/shape/shadow or even the ceiling tiles (count them), focus hard and mentally remark on what you see, like an artist. This helps to suppress the mental worry.
Calm the mind chatter, listen to the sounds beyond yourself, intently, drawing focus to them. Beforehand, listen to something uplifting or inspiring through your ipod- keep it up-beat. This aims to stop negative thoughts and switch up to a more positive mind set.
Shoulder massage, give yourself a quick shoulder massage, but focus on any tensions or sensations that arise. Simply by being attuned to this may help to change sensations and enable you to relax.
75g frozen mixed blueberries, raspberries & blackberries
1 tablespoon rolled porridge oats (uncooked)
150ml milk (semi-skimmed dairy or non-dairy: almond/coconut/oat/rice/soy milk)
1 tsp ground mixed seeds or 6 walnuts
½ teaspoon honey or agave nectar
1 tsp flaxseed oil
10g (heaped dessertspoon) protein powder (e.g. rice or pea protein)
Choose organic ingredients where possible
Place all ingredients in a high-powered blender, blitz until smooth. If too thick add more liquid. Enjoy. Happy studying and good luck!