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Strategies for managing exam stress

It’s that time of semester again and we all know that the exam period can be super stressful for many of us! Even though we know it’s coming and we have the best of intentions things often begin to unravel at the end of semester. It helps to have a plan and a reminder of some of the simplest things you can do to set yourself up for success:

Check in with yourself

Often we forget to really notice what’s going on for us. Stress can manifest in all sorts of ways but these are some common signs:

  • Feeling confused
  • Losing touch with friends
  • Feeling moody
  • Having trouble making decisions
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Lacking motivation
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Upset stomach, or feeling sick
  • Tense muscles and headaches
  • So how can you minimise the impact of stress when trying to prepare for exams and assessments?

    Get into a healthy routine

    It may seem like a good idea to pull an all-nighter but lack of sleep has a significant impact on your mood and energy levels. It’s hard to focus on revision when you’re sleep-deprived and your body starts to crave all sorts of things like caffeine! Try to aim for at least 7-8 hours of sleep a night and also make time to enjoy other activities like spending time with friends and family. Balance is the key!

    Set realistic goals

    Make a plan and divide your tasks into realistic goals with a reasonable timeframe. It can help to break each unit into sub-topics to focus on in one study session. Chunk your time down to 30-minute sessions so that you can see what your priorities really are. Make sure you allocate time for breaks as well as food and sleep! Seeing a plan in front of you can also help you stay on track so try printing it out or add it to your screen background.

    Look after your body

    We all know that nutrition plays a huge part in our wellbeing but when we feel stressed it’s easy to reach for something quick and easy. Unfortunately highly processed food and fast-release carbs can make you feel sluggish and unmotivated after the initial food high. Surround yourself with healthy snacks (fruit, nuts, energy bars, healthy smoothies, eggs etc) and try to plan your main meals during the entire study period. Drink plenty of water and eat a balanced diet to give yourself the energy you need to power through this intense time!

    Look after your mind

    When you start to feel anxious or overwhelmed it helps to just stop and re-set. Take some time to close your eyes and just focus on your breathing for a few minutes. By calming down your breathing you can decrease your body’s response to stress and give yourself a new perspective. It’s also important to find time to exercise. Just moving your body for 30 minutes a day can increase your energy, focus, and boost your endorphins! You don’t have to fit in a full gym workout – just a walk will do.

    Balancing study with everything that’s going on can be a real challenge. Just remember that it’s only for a short time and there is always someone at QUT that can support you. There are also plenty of useful resources available!

    Making a coping plan

    We all feel stressed or distressed from time to time. When you’re feeling overwhelmed it can be hard to think clearly and make good decisions. My Coping Plan is a free iOS app from the University of South Australia that helps you to create and update your own plan for coping with stress. It’s really good for anybody who is trying to avoid unhealthy strategies like negative self-talk. Why not try it for managing stress levels throughout the semester?

    An example of the My Coping Plan app

    Don’t forget that QUT also provides free, confidential counselling services for current students!