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How to manage exam stress


Stress is inevitable. It is a normal response to pressure.  The body is designed to deal or counter stress. Stress becomes a problem when it becomes overwhelming and affects your day-to-day functioning. Whenever an individual experiences a stressful situation, the body goes into a flight or fight mode. Cortisol, also known as the stress hormone, is released when the body experiences stress so that an individual can stay on high alert to deal with the stressful situation.

Exam related stress can be defined as a feeling of worry and pressure that comes around assessment taking situations. Exam related stress is common and affects most, if not all students. Whereas it is normal to feel pressured around and during exam time, studies indicate that a large percentage of students experience exam related stress and if not managed properly, it can negatively impact their mental health.

Students experiencing stress will experience one or more of  these physical symptoms: feeling moody/low, feeling tense, nervous, struggling to sleep or getting out of bed, fast heartbeat, headaches, nausea, fatigue, and stomach rumbling. Mental symptoms of stress include; having difficulty concentrating, racing thoughts, going blank, dread etc.

The reasons for these vary. It could be pressure to succeed, lack of preparations, time constrictions, pressure from parents/guardians, comparing yourself to others, unresolved personal issues, mental and physical health challenges etc.

How to cope with exam related stress

Come up with a timetable or a schedule that will help with planning for your studies. It is easy to feel overwhelmed with many subjects that you need to study so breaking it down makes it manageable.

Use study methods that work for you, whether it is group study or individual study.

It is common to snack or eat junk food when you are stressed. Unhealthy fatty food and snacks high in sugar leave you feeling sluggish, heavy, sleepy and might lead to mental fog. So, it’s best to eat a healthy diet, high in vegetables, and drink enough water. Healthy food is easy on your digestive system as your body absorbs the necessary nutrients and your mind stays alert.

Students also end up staying up late studying for exams –  cramming. However, it is important to get quality sleep. During sleep, you relearn what you have studied during the day. The brain processes what you have studied throughout the day and that helps in understanding concepts. The body also gets time to rest, therefore the student will not be dealing with mental and physical fatigue.

Take healthy breaks in between studying. You can decide to do some physical exercises but do what you can manage; do not over exert yourself. Exercises such as swimming, taking walks, running, jogging, and stretching exercises are a good way of releasing tension in the body and getting the feel-good hormones which helps with the stress.

Take social media breaks; a lot of time is wasted on social media and this enables procrastination. Social media can also be exhausting for the mind and eyes.

When you feel overwhelmed, talk to someone to help you try to manage the situation. It could be a counseling session, a mentor, parent/guardian, or a fellow student you are comfortable with. You are not alone.

Finally, take it a moment at a time. Do not be too focused on the outcome.



This article was written by Peter Mwangi, Clinical Psychologist, University Medical Centre. 



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