The end of the school year is in sight, the weather is warming up (of course it is, you have exams) and summer days off are so close you could almost touch them.
Exam Season can be a stressful time of year for students. Whether you are a college student or in secondary school it is vital to look after your mental and physical well-being while you’re studying.
We often get into a bad habit of telling ourselves that getting an A on this exam is the most important thing in the world. However, what is more important is taking care of ourselves, and this is something that cannot be sacrificed. Self-care is not a luxury but a necessity. If we feel our best, we can study and perform to our highest potential.
Check out our top tips for balancing study and self-care so you can come out of your exams feeling like you’ve done your absolute best and have not had a breakdown in the process.
1. Make a study plan & schedule in time off
Different people work best a different times of the day. Whether you are an early bird or a night owl (excuse the aviary references) stick with what works for you, but what won’t work is studying for 12 hours straight in the library, resulting in a full-blown burn out.
Find the study times that work best for you and create a study timetable around that. If you work best in the daytime, treat your study schedule like a 9-5 job and down tools for the day at 5pm to do something fun or de-stressing. If you find you work best in the evening time, then take the mornings for yourself and start working in the afternoon.
Schedule in breaks throughout the day (every hour) and take this time to get out of the space you are studying, clear your head and rest.
2. Take time to do things you enjoy
Spending 24/7 studying is not going to do you any favours, so make sure you are taking time to do things you enjoy. Read a book, watch Netflix, go for a walk (fresh air is always good), spend time with your friends – whatever you love doing in your spare time that truly makes you feel good.
Taking this time out for yourself will help you to feel more focused during the time you are studying as you know some “me time” is on the horizon.
3. Sleep = sanity
Two of the most important things to get you through a stressful time are the foods you’re eating and the amount of sleep you’re getting. A good night’s sleep (aim for 8 hours) makes the world of difference to your mood and mental health as well as your focus during the day.
Katrina Conrad, assistant director for student well-being at the University of Notre Dame, says that pulling all-nighters is one of the biggest mistakes students make. “Getting the appropriate amount of sleep is critical for memory consolidation,” says Conrad. “Therefore, if you're cutting your sleep, you could be adding a barrier to your own learning process.”
If you’re not sleeping well during the night – remember naps aren’t just for toddlers. Power naps are very effective. A 20-minute nap is perfect for a short recharge for your mind and can even help you better retain the information you’ve been poring over for hours.
4. Eat well
It is also vitally important to eat well – make sure you are eating regular meals and snacks, although stress can sometimes make us feel unwell, it is important to get your nutrition as the brain can’t work on an empty stomach.
The time you think you save when studying by grabbing junk food on the go from the vending machines instead of sitting down for a quick meal and packing healthy snacks can actually hurt you in the long run. Junk food will make you feel sluggish and tired, impeding your focus.
Getting proper nutrients helps your brain function at its best, improves your mood and will keep you full so the entire library doesn’t hear your stomach making dying whale sounds. Supplements to naturally ease stress and anxiety are also great to add in to your daily routine.
5. Treat yourself
When you finish an exam or assignment, treat yourself to something that will make you feel good and give you a boost. You have worked hard and should be proud of yourself for doing so – take the rest of the day off if possible, or if you don’t feel you can, at least take an hour or two to have some chill time and de-stress as much as possible.
6. Ask for help
If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, stressed or anxious about the upcoming exams, reach out and talk about it. There are so many people in the same boat as you, you are not alone in how you are feeling. Talk to a friend, family member or even a lecturer you can trust. If you feel you need more support, get in touch with the student counselling services on campus who are more than equipped to deal with these feelings at exam time.
7. Know your worth
Please read: remember that your worth is not measured by the amount of work you do or some marks on a piece of paper. You can only do your best and at the end of the day, as overwhelming as they can be, exams are not the be all and end all. There is so much more to you as a person than the grades you get. Be kind to yourself and proud of yourself, you’re doing the best you can.
8. Keep up your normal self-care routines
During times of stress and pressure, people tend to skip basic habits like washing their hair because they “don’t have time.” Although you can skip spending hours on your make up, you will feel sluggish and bad about yourself if you don’t keep up with the basics. Keep your hygiene routines as normal and you’ll feel better all round.
9. Get active
They say nothing clears and eases the mind like a good sweat session, or even just getting your heart rate up. While it’s hard to find time during study periods, try to fit in some physical activity a couple of times a week to give your brain a break.
If you feel like you just don’t have the energy for a full-blown workout or if you have been sitting at your desk for hours, try to get outside for a short walk. Go for a walk with intention – notice the world around you outside of the four walls in which you are studying, take deep breaths of fresh air and remind yourself why you are working so hard in the first place. Yoga is also a great way to get your body moving but keep your heart rate low.
It is important to make your study breaks beneficial and intentional, rather than just moments of weakness for you to scroll through Instagram and upset yourself looking and peoples’ seemingly perfect lives.
10. Practice mindfulness & meditation
Kick-starting your day with a short meditation session or mindfulness exercise puts you on the right road to productivity and memory recollection, as well as being great stress relievers and giving your mind a chance to recharge and refocus.
If you have never tried mindfulness or meditation, there are lots of great apps to start off your journey by leading you through short, guided sequences. Check out HeadSpace or Calm – our personal favourites. We also have a guide on how to start out on your mindfulness journey.
The ultimate self-care is finding balance within life's imbalance and being compassionate towards yourself. Taking the time to find your balance, especially in challenging or stressful times, demonstrates self-compassion.
11. Be kind to yourself
If a friend was having difficulties, we would react with support and kindness, but when we find ourselves in that situation, we don’t always show ourselves the same level of care. Calm your nerves once in a while with a deep breath and remind yourself of your many strengths.
You deserve the support you give to others, and in fact you need it to perform at your best. Do things that make you feel confident instead of increasing your fear of failure.
Taking care of yourself—your physical health, stress level and other emotions—should be a year-round habit, it shouldn't be something that only gets prioritized when we are stressed.
Make a list of the things you want to incorporate into your life to be at peak performance all the time, and schedule time for exercise, social support, meditation, vitamins and so on into your day. Take a breath, take a walk, take a break or take a shower.
Pop in to your local CarePlus Pharmacy and chat to our friendly Pharmacists if you are experiencing any anxiety or stress - let us look after you.