Looking after yourself during exam time..
Updated: Nov 13
April, May and June for many are just three months closer to sun, sea and summer holidays but for students, it is 91 days of revision, exams, stress and litres of caffeine.
We study for exams where we will be an anonymous number in a stack of thousands. We spend hours at exams for examiners to spend less than 10 minutes on our papers all for what? To get to where we want to be in life; whether that be university, further education colleges, apprenticeships or the big old world of work.
Many sleepless nights, constant mind blocks, the voice of doubt that we have not done enough to face that exam hall can all cause stress, and anxiety for one too many of us. Through my activism work, I have been supporting students studying for their ALevels and Highers (Scotland) who feel that results do not come without stress, that they need to work themselves into the ground to be deemed “good enough” by employers, universities and sadly by themselves.
Stress is an emotion we will all experience in our lifetimes; a certain amount can be good as it shows us that we need to take action or perhaps work harder, but when stress keeps us up at night that is a cause for concern.
Think of it in this way, if you put too much air into your tyres they will burst, it is the exact same as putting too much pressure on yourself your body will shut down; you will, in fact, forget a lot of what you have learnt which will then put you into a cycle of pressure causing stress leading to forgetfulness of what you have learnt which makes you even more stressed to learn more and over and over again it goes.
I am writing this out of personal experience, as 5 years ago I was studying for ALevels, dreaming of a course I never thought I would be accepted on to in Queens University Belfast. For me, I had the end goal in my head which meant I was not allowed to lose sight of it. The days when my mental health would take a turn for the worse and I was not fit to open a book would be the days I beat myself up more because it was then I felt I was losing sight of my future. The day I knew something had to change was the day I sat an exam and could barely keep my eyes open due to a month’s lack of sleep. That’s when I took 3 days off and binge watched Netflix, being my stubborn self this was not an easy choice, but a matter of fact it was advice from those who had seen what exams were doing to me and they got concerned that I would not make it till the end of exam time. I must admit those 3 days did me the world of good! I came back refreshed, ready to hit the books, knowing more than I cared to give myself credit for and able to rhyme off every word to Pretty Little Liars season 6 (but we will keep that one on the down low).
I know you may be reading this as a parent/guardian or indeed a student and are profoundly shocked that I have just advised you to watch Netflix during exam time; I have, and the reason for that is we ALL need a break. The most successful leaders, businessmen and women and medics in the world did not get to where they are today as a result of spending endless consecutive nights with their heads stuck in a book hoping that something would go in; they are where they are today because they understand the need for SELF CARE. They understand the importance of taking a half an hour a day to read a (non-academic) book, go for a walk, meet up with friends, because not only does this help you retain what you have learnt but more importantly it helps you to relax and to allow your body and mind to function as it should.
Please hear me out when I say that you do NOT need to follow society’s “ideal” of heading to university at 18, getting a job when you graduate, getting married and having your own family… This is not for everybody and that is more than ok! If you feel that university is not for you this year, that you would prefer to take 12 months out, do so. Do what you want to do; not what advisors, parents, teachers tell you. Be the tour guide of your own life map, don’t follow the tour guide, be your own! Create your own goals and reach your own destinations in your own time, but be sure to look after your good oul self along the way, because you deserve it!
Remember if you need any support, guidance at any time about anything, my social media accounts are always open; Twitter: @bully_dont Facebook: facebook.com/dontbullycampaign Instagram: @dontbullycampaign.
Good luck in your studies, but know that a letter on a sheet of paper does not define you! You define yourself and only you!