How to Prioritise Your Mental Health During Exams

How to Prioritise Your Mental Health During Exams
2019-11-15

The term is coming to an end which means that the only thing standing between you andsome well-deserved time off is the exam period. It might be tempting, or maybe even feelnecessary, to neglect your mental health during these few weeks so that you can fully focuson revision. From personal experience I can say that it’s not worth it. During my first examperiod I cried every day for a week and I also lost my appetite which I barely got back in timefor Christmas. This was very unfortunate since a) I had been craving Christmas food sinceJuly, and b) because I was clearly doing some serious damage to my body and mind. Sincethen, I have slowly but surely learned how to avoid unnecessary stress. I’m still no expertand I still struggle sometimes, but I now know how to notice the signs of stress and how tostop it in its tracks. There is no one size fits all approach to prioritising your mental health butthese are the strategies that work for me:

 

Image of student with head in a book against a brick wall

Don’t reach for junk food

I’m pretty sure the cashiers at Morrisons could tell when I was stressed during my first yearof university as I would literally rely on sugar to get me through deadlines and exams. Andwhile a little comfort eating/ sugar rush has never hurt anyone, it comes to a pointwhere it does you more harm than good. So make sure to stock up on healthy snacks thisexam period, and to cook food which is good for you. If you feel like you need to order in,because of time or energy constraints, try to opt for a healthy option. With that being said,don’t forget to treat yourself. You’re doing a great job and although healthy food (and lots ofwater) will help your brain perform at its best, sometimes a sugary treat will give you a muchneeded motivational boost.

Don’t suffer in silence

Confessing how stressed you are or admitting how behind you feel in your revision when allof your friends seem to have it all together may not be something you want to do. Thethought of it might actually make you feel worse. But sometimes we all need a little pep talkand a hug, or to be reassured that everything is going to be okay. Although Pinterest and asoft toy are also great at this, it’s often my friends that make me understand that I need tomake some sort of change when I haven’t quite realised how bad I’m stressing. And if yourfriends really are as calm and collected as they appear to be, they’ll be able to give youadvice or even help you revise. If you find out that they’re struggling as much as you are, atleast you’re not alone, which, to be honest, is always somewhat of a relief.Speaking of friends, don’t forget to let go of revision every now and then and talk aboutsomething that has nothing to do with exams. If everyone around you seems busy, why notcall a friend or your family?

Schedule downtime

This one is really important. You won’t feel as rested if you keep thinking that you shouldstudy whilst on your break. Schedule downtime and stick to your plan. Depending on howbehind you are in your revision you might feel as if you don’t have time for a break but youdo need one every now and again. You probably don’t study every awaken hour anyway,start considering the breaks you do take as actual downtime rather than procrastination. Or ifyou know you’re not efficient at night, use the time to rest. It will probably benefit you morethan trying to revise anyway. Preferably take a full day off or two, even if it’s just to cleanyour room, do laundry and grocery shop.

Get moving

 

Doing chores isn’t the only way to be productive whilst on a break. Why don’t you head tothe gym, go out on a run, or do some exercises at home? I only recently started working outregularly so I’m not gonna push too hard for this one, as I know that it can be easier saidthan done. But did you know that when you exercise, you actually strengthen your brain?That means that you will not only get short-term benefits from the release of endorphins,you’ll also get a healthier brain in the long-term. Just remember to do it regularly if you wantto reap the long-term benefits. If you’re still hesitant, consider walking. It has the sameeffects, although weaker. I recommend going to the beach, there’s something aboutwatching and listening to the waves that make my problems seem lesser.

 

Image of scenery by a beach with

Meditate

Give me a chance before you roll your eyes. I don’t meditate regularly anymore but I did doso everyday for a full year because I was stubborn about not losing my streak in theHeadspace app. So why am I recommending it even though I barely do it myself? When Ifeel like I’ve lost control over my stress there’s one specific meditation exercise that I turn to.I’ve used this on the day of deadlines and before giving presentations, and it alwaysmanages to calm me down so that I can focus on what I need to do. I’ll try to retell it the bestI can.

First, sit yourself down on a chair. Place both feet on the ground and your hands in your lapbefore closing your eyes. I like sitting there for a few moments, making myself aware of mybreath and the weight of my body. Then, picture liquid gold or sunshine streaming down fromabove your head. Imagine how it pours down your body and fills you up, starting with yourtoes. As the liquid gold travels up through your body, imagine how it warms and relaxes thebody parts that it fills. It’s important to keep imagining the stream coming from above yourhead. Likewise, note that the stream does not stop when the liquid gold has no more bodyparts to fill, instead, imagine how it overflows your body. When you’ve reached this point,spend a few moments enjoying the sunshine glow from within before opening your eyesagain. This exercise can take a few seconds or several minutes, it’s up to you.

If you’re certain that meditation is not for you, why not try yoga? It combines mindfulnesswith exercise and leaves me with a similar feeling of calm.

Lastly, I would like to repeat that everyone is different. You’re not doing something wrongbecause you’re not meditating or eating healthily. I don’t want you to see this blog post as achecklist of things to do, a longer to-do list is the last thing you need. What I do want you totake away from this post it to remember to care for yourself. You should always prioritiseyour well-being over your grades, because your health truly is so much more important.

Published by Students, University of Aberdeen

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