Published: 18th February 2019
Here's how you de-stress from exam distress like a pro!
Students can rewire their brains to overcome the stress and tension that precede their exams. Did you know that? An expert writes
Flaring tempers, dark circles, irregularity in sleep and dietary habits and an overall sense of doom - this would be the setting in most households in the run up to the dreaded days of reckoning- the annual exams. Mere memories of these can make even exam veterans shudder several years later.
A quick internet search on exam stress would reveal countless pages that have dealt with the topic, ad-nauseam. But what precedes the success? What helps us stay afloat in the increasingly chaotic rat-race we find ourselves in? The answer is a calm mind. American author and speaker, Bryant Mcgill conveys this beautifully when he says that “Your calm mind is the ultimate weapon against your challenges. So relax”. Seems paradoxical but it isn’t. A calm mind does not mean one must relax and throw caution to the wind. It is about maintaining a state of optimal stress or Eustress. This is the good kind of stress that pushes one to work harder without burning out. So what does it take to achieve the ideal ‘stillness’ of mind? It’s not something one is born with. We are all perfectly capable of experiencing this. All it takes is a little effort and practice.
Stillness of mind is conducive to productivity but there are multiple factors that are conducive to the stillness – Time Management, Physiological Balance and Psychological Self-Care.
Time sure can seem hard to tame but once you get the ball rolling, you’ll revel in the peace of mind brought on by the order it brings in. Set SMART goals and sub-goals to track your progress against time – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound. Take short breaks between goals, schedule study appointments in your calendar and do your best to honour it.
The physiological balancing act requires one to walk that tight rope of adequate sleep, a healthy diet and a reasonable amount of light exercise. Set a bedtime ritual! This can be anything that restores a sense of calm to your mind. Keeping away phones/tablets, drinking chamomile tea, listening to soothing music, doing some light reading.
Ever wondered why even staring at a blank wall can become exciting while you’re trying to study? Your brain tries to find reasons to escape the monotony of reading and flipping pages. Take a short walk even if it’s around the house and remember to hydrate adequately.
Psychological/emotional self-care is an often ignored dimension of self-care. It is important to soothe internal pandemonium. “You’re stupid”, “How can you be so dumb?” and “You’re a disappointment”, are some of the “milder” forms of criticism we subject ourselves to. Self-compassion is important even beyond the context of exams and you can start acting on this by acknowledging your achievements, big or small, at the end of each day. Speak to yourself as you would to a best friend.
Another way to deal with the anxiety is to be mindful i.e. ‘to be aware’ of oneself and one’s surroundings. Breathe! We are all most certainly following this step, but to what extent? The difference lies in the depth. Your belly is a good indicator of your breathing effectiveness – notice if it bulges when you inhale and contracts when you exhale!
Incorporate these, little by little, one day at a time. It gets easier. As Canadian-American speaker, Brian Tracy said “Set peace of mind as your highest goal and organise your life around it.” Let’s work on moving that body and “stilling” that mind. The grades will follow.
The author is a Clinical Psychologist at MPower- The Centre in Bengaluru
The views expressed here are the author's own