Exams stress everyone out, mental illness or not, exams will make you anxious – and they should do as it motivates you to study and perform well. However, it’s important to remember at the end of the day, you can resit an exam whereas it’s going to take a lot more time and effort to get over a mental breakdown. Although I suffer from anxiety I’m always considerably chilled out when I head into my exam; I never let myself think, “What if I fail?”. You need to trust that you are smart enough and more than capable to pass.
Since I have been researching a lot into how to take care of your mental health, I often offer my friends a lot of tips on how to destress, especially whilst coping with studying. Most of my friends are happy to hear the advice – but some get offended and reiterate that they do not have a mental health condition (the strong denial is quite offensive). However, this is true, most people don’t suffer from mental illness but at the same time everyone has mental health and just like you take care of your body, you should take care of your mind. A little self care can’t hurt anyone.
Some days you might not be able to study if you are feeling so low or distracted – don’t get upset at yourself. The next day you can pick yourself up and try again! Never get annoyed at your mental illness because it is not your fault.
LOOK GOOD, FEEL GOOD, PERFORM GOOD
My mum has always insisted that I look nice to go to my exams and I have always stuck to that advice. I believe that if you feel confident in yourself that you may feel more confident in your abilities. Additionally, after a week of studying in sweatpants or pyjamas it’s a nice reminder that you can dress up. Whenever I don’t put in effort into what I’m wearing or my make up, I just don’t feel 100% and I would never want that to transfer into my exam work.
Sometimes I struggle focusing on my work especially if I’m anxious about something or if I’m having a depressed day. I used to just sit down and force myself to try to learn for a few hours, achieving little, before I gave up and had a long break. Now if I recognise that I’m upset and that I’m not being productive I take a break. It might take an hour or two to feel better but when I come back to studying my head is in a much better place and I’m able to learn.
It seems concerning that so many of the people in my course spend 8am-8pm in the library, that is not healthy and I can’t imagine it would be productive either. Personally, I know that I learn most in the half hour after I first sit down to study because my mind is fresh and after a certain point, maybe an hour or two, my mind begins to wander and I don’t retain any knowledge. So take time when you start to feel it’s hard to concentrate and go a short walk, or go and get some food to refocus your brain.
Sleep is necessary to process the information you are learning and without it you won’t be able to function fully the next day. Staying up to learn the full night before the exam is the worst idea, you’ll be exhausted when it comes to the exam and will have taken little in. The night before an exam I make sure to relax before I go to sleep, so I can get to sleep easier, and I try to get a long sleep to wake up energised. I never wake myself up early to study on the day of the exam because I feel that would just stress me out; I rarely study the day of the exam – if you don’t know it now then you never will.
DO A FUN ACTIVITY EVERYDAY
You’re studying, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take an hour off to go out for dinner or to the park! If you have a hobby, don’t give it up to focus solely on exams because that will make you miserable. Life is a balance. You should be studying for an appropriate amount of time, allowing yourself space to relax and have fun. A lot of my friends study continuously, only taking a break to eat and sleep, and by the day of the exam they are so stressed they are acting more anxious than me.
Exams are not a reason to drop everything and study 24/7 – that’s unhealthy. No matter how important passing exams are to you, your health should always come first. Include a fun activity in your schedule everyday, along with an adequate amount of sleep and breaks! This will boost your productivity, reduce your stress levels and make you generally happier. A lot of my friends say they don’t have time for this (you can make time for anything) but we are on the same course so if I can spare time then everyone can.