The term is coming to an end which means that the only thing standing between you and some well-deserved time off is the exam period. It might be tempting, or maybe even feel necessary, to neglect your mental health during these few weeks so that you can fully focus on revision. From personal experience I can say that it’s not worth it. During my first exam period I cried every day for a week and I also lost my appetite which I barely got back in time for Christmas. This was very unfortunate since a) I had been craving Christmas food since July, and b) because I was clearly doing some serious damage to my body and mind. Since then, I have slowly but surely learned how to avoid unnecessary stress. I’m still no expert and I still struggle sometimes, but I now know how to notice the signs of stress and how to stop it in its tracks. There is no one size fits all approach to prioritising your mental health but these are the strategies that work for me:
Don’t reach for junk food
I’m pretty sure the cashiers at Morrisons could tell when I was stressed during my first year of university as I would literally rely on sugar to get me through deadlines and exams. And while a little comfort eating slash sugar rush has never hurt anyone, it comes to a point where it does you more harm than good. So make sure to stock up on healthy snacks this exam 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 of water) will help your brain perform at its best, sometimes a sugary treat will give you a much needed motivational boost.
Don’t suffer in silence
Confessing how stressed you are or admitting how behind you feel in your revision when all of your friends seem to have it all together may not be something you want to do. The thought of it might actually make you feel worse. But sometimes we all need a little pep talk and a hug, or to be reassured that everything is going to be okay. Although Pinterest and a soft toy are also great at this, it’s often my friends that make me understand that I need to make some sort of change when I haven’t quite realised how bad I’m stressing. And if your friends really are as calm and collected as they appear to be, they’ll be able to give you advice or even help you revise. If you find out that they’re struggling as much as you are, at least 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 about something that has nothing to do with exams. If everyone around you seems busy, why not call a friend or your family?
This one is really important. You won’t feel as rested if you keep thinking that you should study whilst on your break. Schedule downtime and stick to your plan. Depending on how behind you are in your revision you might feel as if you don’t have time for a break but you do 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 if you know you’re not efficient at night, use the time to rest. It will probably benefit you more than trying to revise anyway. Preferably take a full day off or two, even if it’s just to clean your room, do laundry and grocery shop.
Doing chores isn’t the only way to be productive whilst on a break. Why don’t you head to the gym, go out on a run, or do some exercises at home? I only recently started working out regularly so I’m not gonna push too hard for this one, as I know that it can be easier said than 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 want to reap the long-term benefits. If you’re still hesitant, consider walking. It has the same effects, although weaker. I recommend going to the beach, there’s something about watching and listening to the waves that make my problems seem lesser.
Give me a chance before you roll your eyes. I don’t meditate regularly anymore but I did do so everyday for a full year because I was stubborn about not losing my streak in the Headspace app. So why am I recommending it even though I barely do it myself? When I feel 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 always manages to calm me down so that I can focus on what I need to do. I’ll try to retell it the best I can.
First, sit yourself down on a chair. Place both feet on the ground and your hands in your lap before closing your eyes. I like sitting there for a few moments, making myself aware of my breath and the weight of my body. Then, picture liquid gold or sunshine streaming down from above your head. Imagine how it pours down your body and fills you up, starting with your toes. As the liquid gold travels up through your body, imagine how it warms and relaxes the body parts that it fills. It’s important to keep imagining the stream coming from above your head. Likewise, note that the stream does not stop when the liquid gold has no more body parts 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 eyes again. 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 mindfulness with 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 wrong because you’re not meditating or eating healthily. I don’t want you to see this blog post as a checklist of things to do, a longer to-do list is the last thing you need. What I do want you to take away from this post it to remember to care for yourself. You should always prioritise your well-being over your grades, because your health truly is so much more important.