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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!

    Five apps for dealing with exam stress

    Exams coming up? For most of us the pressure of exams and final assessment submissions cause some level of stress. Stress is your response to pressure and while a small amount can be useful to keep you focused if it becomes too much exam revision can seem impossible.

    The good news is that there are so many apps out there to help deal with this intense time:

    Exam Countdown is a free app to keep track of exam and assessment dates. It provides a handy visual reminder of all your important upcoming dates. You can keep focused by easily checking how much time you’ve got to revise before you sit each exam. We love the fact that you can colour code all your exams and tests and use icons as a quick visual reference for each unit. You can also add notes to remind yourself of anything you need to bring on the day. Available on both Android and iOS.

    Mind mapping is a great study method as it helps organise your thoughts, spark your memory and come up with new ideas. With SimpleMind you can create your own mind maps, or choose one of the auto layouts and fill it in. If you like finding creative ways to revise for exams then this app is for you. The free version does plenty but the full version is reasonably priced too. Available on all platforms.

    Studies show that meditation can help you stay on task longer, switch between things less frequently and enjoy your tasks more. Headspace is a popular app, with meditations to help you through all phases of your life. The Focus pack can help you de-clutter your thoughts and sharpen your concentration, even under pressure. Try the free version or access hundreds of hours of extra content when you subscribe.

    Take a deep breath. Calm is both a call to action and a defining feature of the app’s approach to mindfulness and meditation. It’s message is simply “you’re going to get through this, and all you need to start is a moment”. There are so many new apps for meditation and mindfulness, but Calm stands out for its ease of use and attention to (soothing) detail. Try the free version on Android or iOS.

    PAUSE is based on the ancient principles of Tai Chi and mindfulness practice. When you want to shake off your stress and start relaxing, this app can work wonders. Against a backdrop of soothing music, you move your finger slowly across your screen, being careful not to speed up your pace. This triggers the body’s ‘rest and digest’ response which helps you regain focus and release stress within minutes. Check it out on Android or iOS!

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