Stress is a normal part of life and it is common that studying for exams can create a stress response in the body. While stress is normal, it is not always desirable, and it can interfere with your performance ability.
What are some ways to manage stress while studying for high-stakes exams?
Leave space for a clear mind
An article published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine notes that last-minute revision before an exam is rarely helpful and can, in fact, make anxiety worse. Consider developing your own relaxing routine for the evening or morning before your exam, instead of using that time for last-minute cramming.
Schedule regular time off from studying: if you are able to remain 100% committed to leisure and relaxation during your time off from studying, you may experience less guilt and greater focus during your dedicated study time. You may want to try setting aside one half-day or one full day off from studying each week.
Look at your coping strategies
Many of us may not be fully aware of how we deal with stress. Be honest with yourself about what works for you and what is not working. It may also be helpful to speak with a counsellor about coping strategies. Consider some alternative ways to deal with stress and how you might implement these.
Take care of your basics
Many unhelpful habits can get in the way of exam success and lead to further stress. To function at your optimal level, do your best to prioritize adequate sleep, nutrition, hydration, physical activity, social connection, and spiritual care.
Do something you enjoy
A hobby can help you relax, and taking short breaks to doodle, sing, knit, cook, or read a (non-medical) book can go a long way to boost your mood. Don’t forget that anything is better than nothing: give yourself regular 10-minute study breaks to take a short walk or stretch.
Challenge unhelpful thoughts
It is common for negative thoughts to come up while studying. Challenge yourself to try out new ways of thinking. You might want to set aside “scheduled worry time” to prevent worries from getting in the way of important tasks you want to complete. It may be helpful to write down your worries when they come up in order to externalize these thoughts.
Seek out support
Not being able to talk about your needs and concerns can lead to further stress and can make negative feelings worse. Challenge yourself to ask for help; sometimes things can be too much to handle alone. Being able to talk to a colleague, administrator, program director, or counsellor can create a sense of relief.
There are a number of services available to help support you during periods that can be stressful. Please reach out and talk to someone, even if you’re not sure if you need it yet.