Does studying for school exams leave your stomach in knots and your head feeling like it’s going to explode? You’re not alone! Exams are an unavoidable part of the educational experience, but most students don’t exactly look forward to them. In fact, preparing for exams can be extremely stressful and overwhelming. Many students find themselves procrastinating, drinking tons of coffee, and pulling all-nighters. But it doesn’t have to be that way! In this blog post, we will help you discover 10 simple and effective ways to reduce studying anxiety and create healthier habits overall.
1. Create A Schedule Or Action Plan
If you want to give yourself the best chance to do well on your exams while also managing your stress, it takes preparation. Getting organized and creating a study schedule can help reduce your stress and keep you focused each day.
One of the best ways to create a manageable schedule is to break up reviewing your course materials into smaller amounts, spaced out over the days leading up to your exam. Knowing you have a doable action plan ready each morning will help reduce anxiety, and you’ll be able to achieve your daily goals without feeling overwhelmed. Not to mention, creating a plan to stay focused can be particularly useful for those who also deal with mental health issues such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
As well, make sure to include small breaks in your schedule! Overworking your brain can be counterproductive; so even when you have a lot to do, your mind and body need short breaks to help unwind between study sessions.
2. Avoid Procrastination
Are you prone to putting off studying, promising yourself that you’ll start tomorrow—and then all of a sudden it’s the day before your exam and you’re in full panic mode? Trying to cram for your exams a day or two beforehand can seem like an amazing idea when you’re out partying or watching movies. But unfortunately, procrastination can make it more difficult to get good grades and also affects your mental health. The less time you give yourself to prepare for your exams, the more stress, anxiety, and lack of sleep you will have to deal with. And it works both ways! Not only can procrastination cause anxiety, anxiety can also cause and drive you to procrastinate.
In addition, if you treat your brain like an overstuffed suitcase that you’re desperately trying to sit on so the zipper will close, unfortunately, just won’t work! By trying to overload your brain with too much information all at once, you can actually limit the amount of information you retain, leading to even more stress. Instead, make sure to start studying as soon as possible. Giving yourself more time allows you to go over your course material in smaller amounts and to go over it more than once to help solidify the information. Give it a try—your brain will thank you!
3. Take A Break
Exam time is important to students. You work hard throughout the year, and this is your chance to really show that you know your stuff! But sometimes you can get so focused on exams that it starts to feel like nothing else matters and the stress starts to creep in. Working constantly and putting more pressure on yourself isn’t the answer. Remember to take care of yourself! Your exams are important, but your wellbeing is much more precious.
Make sure that you take the time for self-care to keep yourself healthy and in a positive frame of mind. Even a short 15 minute break here and there for some downtime is vital for maintaining your mental health and reducing anxiety, and also gives your brain the chance to rest and actually process the information you’re learning. Then you can come back refreshed and ready to study after each break!
Pro Tip: Don’t be afraid to get creative with your self-care! Self-care breaks can be fun activities, or just time to chill out. It could be anything from a mini workout session, meditating, watching a TV show, taking a walk outside, a nap, listening to some music, or even singing in the shower—whatever makes you happy leaves you feeling rejuvenated.
4. Pick A Great Study Spot
Do you ever think about whether you’re studying in a spot that works for you? If you aren’t studying somewhere you can be productive, it can affect your anxiety and increase your overall stress levels while studying. Find what works best for you! Do you like studying with some background noise or somewhere quiet? Do you prefer studying alone or with other people?
Whether you enjoy studying alone, in a library, at home, in a cafe, or even as part of a study group, find a place that inspires you to study and helps you focus. Studying somewhere that is distracting can make it much more difficult to study, leaving you feeling more irritated, discouraged, and anxious. Creating a great study environment can make you feel more confident and relaxed, helping you leave your exam anxiety in the past!
5. Eat Healthy
Let’s be real for a minute. Studying doesn’t exactly bring out the urge to eat healthy! Nobody stressing about exams thinks to themselves “Mmm, I could really go for a kale salad right now”. It’s way more tempting to grab a burger and fries or a nice greasy pizza to keep you full when you’re preparing for exams, but try to restrain yourself. It may seem like a great (and tasty!) choice at the time, but your physical health is important to staying stress-free during exams and is directly connected to your mental health.
Eating unhealthy foods during exam season can give you some temporary gratification, but your food choices can also affect your energy level, mood, stress and anxiety levels, and physical wellbeing. Do you feel like those sugary and fatty treats give you a pre-exam boost? Think again! Those types of foods or snacks actually make you feel more lethargic and bloated. Not exactly the way you’d want to feel as you’re getting ready for exams, is it? When we choose nutritious food instead, it makes it a lot easier to manage feelings of stress and anxiety, and gives our brain extra energy.
Pro Tip: To help avoid unhealthy foods, try keeping a stash of healthy snacks with you when you’re planning to study in case you get the munchies. It can also help to create a meal plan for the days you know you’ll be busy studying for exams so that you’re not making spur of the moment food choices.
When you think about exams and studying, you might imagine sitting in a library buried beneath piles of books, or spending hours hunched over a desk. What may not come to mind is exercise! Exercise is important for your overall health and wellbeing. It can improve your heart and lung function, mood, and your concentration, while also reducing stress and leaving you feeling more energized by giving you an awesome boost of endorphins. When you feel better physically, you have more energy to study properly.
Exercise doesn’t mean you have to do anything super strenuous for it to be beneficial. Do whatever you enjoy! It could be anything from playing a sport, to going for a walk or run in the park, to going for a swim—or even a dance party in your living room! Just make sure it’s something that gets your heart rate up and leaves you feeling energized and happy.
7. Get A Good Night’s Sleep
Reducing your exam stress isn’t just about studying; getting quality sleep can have a huge impact on your anxiety while studying for school exams. Sleep is important for many things like decision-making, focus, learning, memory, mood, and so much more! If you are pulling all-nighters or staying up late worrying, you are only making things worse for yourself.
Luckily, there are lots of things you can do to improve your sleep! Try to start settling down for bed at the same time each night, put electronics like your phone away, and make sure you’re sleeping somewhere dark and quiet. If you want quality sleep, it’s also a good idea to avoid caffeine and alcohol in the later part of the day, as they can make you restless even into the evening or night. Finally, avoid things that will get you excited or stressed before bed like watching a scary movie, playing a video game, or reading news that gets you upset. Instead, try doing something relaxing as part of your bedtime routine like meditating, taking a warm bath, or listening to some relaxing music to help your body and your brain unwind.
For more tips on how to improve your sleep, read our blog here!
8. Change Your Perspective
As a student, it’s hard not to worry about how you might perform on your exams and that can also stir up many of your own worst fears and insecurities about yourself. Unfortunately, it can be a self-fulfilling prophecy as the more you worry, the more you may undermine your own confidence. You may find yourself becoming preoccupied with thoughts like “I’m not smart enough”, “I’m going to do terribly on this exam”, or “There’s no way I can do this, I should just give up”. These thoughts can distract you, chip away your self-esteem, and leave you feeling more stressed about your exams than ever.
The good news is you can work to change these thoughts! Try changing your perspective using encouraging statements like “I am going to try my best” or “I studied really hard for this”. If you find yourself bogged down by negative self-talk, try writing out positive statements and sayings that inspire you and look at them to remind yourself of who you are and what you are capable of. Sometimes all you need is a little change in perspective!
Pro Tip: Go easy on yourself during stressful times like these and practice a little self-compassion. Even if an exam doesn’t go as well as you wanted, or you go off your study schedule, don’t constantly beat yourself up over your mistakes. It may sometimes feel like you’re failing or not meeting your expectations, which can make you discouraged. But remember that thoughts are not facts, and you are not all of the negative things that you think about yourself when you’re stressed or depressed. You deserve compassion.
9. Practice Relaxation Techniques
If you’re really feeling the pressure during exam season and need a little extra help staying calm, try some relaxation techniques to help reduce stress and anxiety. You can use breathing techniques, meditation, yoga, mindfulness, art therapy, aromatherapy, or even listening to an app like the Calm or Insight Timer app. These types of relaxation techniques can be a great addition to your exam coping strategies and can help if you feel yourself getting overwhelmed!
10. Ask for Help If You Need It
As important as your exams may seem at the time, remember that your mental health is much more valuable. If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed or depressed, try talking to someone like a friend, family member, teacher or someone else that you trust. Many professors and teachers know how stressful exam season is for students and will try to help accommodate students or give you advice if they can—it is always worth asking!
Talking to someone you trust when you’re feeling overwhelmed can help reduce your stress levels and make you feel less alone. If you don’t have someone in your life you feel like you can confide in, remember that you can also always speak with a counsellor or therapist—they want to help! They can give you a safe space to talk about ways to manage your stress and any other feelings of depression or anxiety you may be having.
The Bottom Line
Stress and anxiety while studying for exams can often feel all-consuming. But no matter how important your exams may seem at the time, your happiness and wellbeing are more important! Remember to take a deep breath and remind yourself that the anxiety you’re feeling is temporary and that there are strategies like those above to help keep your anxiety and stress under control. Once you discover the strategies that work for you, you can not only use them for school but in other areas of your life as well.
Are you struggling with feelings of depression, anxiety, or feel like you’re unable to manage your stress? Please reach out to us for a free 15 minute consultation or to book your appointment with one of our Barrie therapists - we would love to help!
Our team of online and Barrie therapists provides quality and effective counselling & psychotherapy services in Barrie and virtually across Ontario to individuals (6+), couples and families. We also offer an Affordable Therapy Program that provides counselling services in Barrie to individuals (12+) who are facing financial challenges that need mental health support.