It’s been a few years since I graduated from Uni, but it is far from a distant memory and the feeling of complete chaos is still very fresh from those totally irresponsible, ‘glory’ years of frantic cramming.
When I think of exams, I think of seemingly endless hours sitting hunched in my tiny, musty, dark room (yay, student house) weeping anxious tears all over the pages of my Social Theory textbook, wondering why in the F#!K I signed up for University in the first place!
In hindsight, I wish I had paid attention to self-care or even had known what self-care was. My version of taking care of myself was ripping open another bag of all-dressed chips and spending hours creeping on Facebook. Had I known how important self-care was during this stressful time, I likely would have been way more resilient, healthy and happy and set myself up for handling stress in the future.
Why and how to practice self-care during exams… or life in general
1) Cook healthy meals. Healthy food = brain fuel
Eating a well balanced diet will give your body all the nutrients that it needs to function at it’s best, both physically and mentally. And, if you don’t have time to home-cook your meals, grab the healthiest option wherever you’re at. Yes, I know- a McFlurry with double oreo is super tempting, but remember, food = energy. Check out this awesome list of quick recipes on BuzzFeed here or the entire library of Tasty videos here.
2) Put the device away and get some sleep! Sleep is key to a functioning brain
We all know the deal- screen time wrecks havoc on our sleeping patterns. Sleep is super-critical in the process of absorbing information - so, as much as you want to binge watch the entire original Gilmore Girls series, just be careful not to go too overboard.
3) Netflix is the answer to unwind and check-out for a few
Remember when I suggested not to binge-watch the original Gilmore Girls? Well, sometimes Netflix is the answer! Putting on a few episodes of the original GG while cooking a healthy dinner is a great way to forget the stress of your exams. Just be careful not to watch too many episodes before heading to bed as the artificial light from screens is disruptive to your sleep. Also, putting on a few episodes of something that you have seen before can help you unwind and give your brain something else to think about without introducing new information.
4) Make an exam playlist on Soundcloud, Spotify, Youtube… or whatever. Music can calm your soul
Music is therapy for the soul. Find some of your favourite chill music that will help trigger your brain to relax. Try this ambient playlist from YouTube, of this Deep House Relax one from Spotify, or this one random one from SoundCloud.
5) Get Crafty - building things can feel like accomplishing things
Go to the Dollar Store and find some cheap supplies for crafting. Getting busy with your hands and building things can be extremely cathartic and soothing- it can make you feel like you are accomplishing concrete tasks when studying seems endless. Take a look at this list of projects to destress.
6) Go out, get some fresh air and take a break from your desk for a while. Fresh air = restorative
I don’t know about you, but being outside is my favourite place to be. Luckily for most, exam time correlates to the start of spring and warmer-weather. Warmer weather and sunny days can have a pretty powerful impact on your mood. Go for a hike or grab your favourite book and blanket and lounge outside for a few hours.
7) Cut down on the caffeine, working longer doesn’t mean working better
Easier said than done, I know. This can be so hard to do, especially after hours or studying, but it can help to reduce anxiety and stress. Caffeine does a whole heap of things to your body and can trigger stress. Try drinking black or green tea instead, they have lower levels of caffeine, but can still give you a little boost. And this is not to say that you shouldn’t drink caffeine, just pay attention to how it affects your body and mind and drink accordingly! Check out this mindyourmind blog about caffeine and anxiety.
8) Try really hard not to pull an all-nighter. Cramming is stressful and can lead to loss of info retention
When you have three exams in a row and you feel like you have no other option but to pull an all-nighter (or two), remember how important sleep is to remembering information once that exam booklet is in front of you. Try to establish a routine during exams that is fairly consistent with your schedule throughout the rest of the year- this can help your brain to retain information. If you didn’t get enough sleep the night before, you’re more likely to misread questions and make mistakes.
9) Make a scheduled time when you do not engage with social media or news media. Logging off can be productive
With alllllllll the news sources and social media posts about what’s going on around the world today, it can be ultra stressful. As difficult as it is, schedule time to logout of your social media accounts. I find that fully logging out on my accounts on my computer and deleting the apps from my phone makes me have to put in that “extra little work”. It also gives me a gentle reminder that it is my scheduled time-off from social media. Or, try changing your social media passwords and giving them to a trusted friend/family member during exams. They can give you your password back once exams are done.
10) Two words - adult colouring. Adding creativity to your life can help balance your brain
There’s something about getting colours onto a page that is extremely rewarding. I mean, there’s gotta be a reason why adult colouring has become the hottest thing in bookstores, right? Buy one at the Dollar Store or print a few and grab some pencil-crayons and give it a whirl. Colouring helps you exercise your creative part of your brain that you may have had to suppress during exams.
11) Go to the movies with your friends, or by yourself
Around this time of year, amazing movies start hitting the box-office! Luckily, most cities have cheap Tuesdays at the movies, so treat yourself to a fun night out with your friends or by yourself. I recently gathered the courage to venture to the movies solo and it was surprisingly awesome! All the popcorn and candy to yourself! Woot.
12) Write in a journal. Getting your thoughts and feelings on paper is a way to relieve stress.
Writing can be a great way to get your stress out of your head and onto paper. It can also be a great way to track what triggers your stress so you can learn to avoid them in the future.
Don’t have a journal, or are scared to start one? Check out these tips on how to start one. Don’t worry about your journaling being profound - start by doodling or just writing what you’re feeling- eventually the words will flow - and if they don’t, that’s okay too. Journaling doesn’t have to mean writing your every thought and how it made you feel, it can be super casual. Some people journal with Smashbooks, some people use poetry, some use the art and sketching method. Whatever helps you gets your thoughts out of your head, seeing things on the page can help you begin to process how you are feeling.
13) Borrow a dog. Babysit a cat. Watch funny animal videos on Youtube. Animals are scientifically proven reduce stress
Hanging out with animals is shown to lower your blood pressure and pulse which can become elevated when you’re stressed. I’m not suggesting you buy a cat or dog, but hanging out with a friend’s pet for a few hours can help you to let go of some of that building exam tension. And, if you’re allergic, studies have also shown that even just looking at an animal has stress-relieving powers. Here are some amazing animal videos on YouTube to get you started.
Did you catch that the title was a play on the wildly popular book/ Netflix series, 13 Reasons Why? While I really dig that the show is getting people to talk about really difficult topics regarding mental health and sexual assault, as a youth mental health advocate, I find the show has major flaws and fails to address that help and resources are out there. Need resources for staying safe during times of crisis mental health? Download our FREE Be Safe App for Apple or Android.
Image Credit: James Stencilowsky
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