A bit of stress in the exam hall can help improve your performance, but too much stress can put your mental and physical health at risk. When you’re under pressure, it may be trickier to remember techniques to help you to feel calmer.
Recent information from Google Trends shows that many students are turning to the internet to seek help managing stress levels. Here, Naomi Humber, Head of Mental Wellbeing at Bupa UK has shared ten tips to help stressed students feel grounded as they tackle the last few weeks of their exams.
If you find exam season stressful, you’re certainly not alone. With lots riding on your results, it’s understandable to feel anxious about your performance and how those results will impact your future.
Your body responds both mentally and physiologically when you’re anxious. For example, you might feel more breathless than usual, which can lead to you feeling even more anxious. Grounding techniques can help to help break the cycle by helping your body fight negative emotions and reduce their physiological symptoms of anxiety.
Here are 10 grounding techniques for exam anxiety:
1. Reset your breath
Concentrating on your breath can help you to feel stiller and less overstimulated by your thoughts. Take note of your breathing – does it feel faster than usual?
Sit yourself upright, and try to slow your breathing by taking slow, deep breaths down to your tummy through your nose, then exhale slowly through your mouth. Repeat this slowly, focussing on the air you exhale until you feel calmer.
2. Go to your happy place
Once you’ve reset your breath, you can add to this by using your mind to transport you elsewhere. Get yourself comfortable, either sat or lying down, and try to imagine a place that brings you happiness. It could be by the sea, or at the top of a hill overlooking your favourite view.
Use all your senses to really engage and immerse yourself in your happy environment. Think about how the scene looks, how it feels, how it smells. You could even enhance your experience by putting in some headphones to play some ambient sounds to channel your focus.
The more you practice this technique, the easier it will become to find yourself in your happy place.
3. Distraction techniques
Focussing on other elements of your surroundings can offer a helpful way to calm a stressed mind. Think about your favourite colour. Now look around the room to notice how many objects are that colour in your environment.
Others may find that counting backwards from one hundred in multiples of seven can help them to feel cooler, too. As this isn’t the easiest task, it demands you to focus and concentrate on something other than anxious thoughts.
4. Use adrenaline to your advantage
When your mind is active, focussing on slower and more relaxing techniques may feel difficult. If you’re finding it difficult to keep still, use that energy and channel it into an activity – think dancing, running, singing, cycling – anything that can burn off the excess energy you’re feeling.
Once you’re feeling less full of adrenaline, you could try a more calming technique to help calm the energy in your mind as well as in your body.
5. Try the 5-4-3-2-1 technique
This technique focusses on all your senses to help you feel connected with your environment. Sit down comfortably, shut your eyes, and take a few long, deep breaths. When you’re ready, open your eyes and slowly start to take in your surroundings.
If possible, name out loud:
- 5 things you can see around you.
- 4 things that you can touch. Think about the texture of your seat, how your skin feels, etc.).
- 3 things that you can hear – for example, the breeze, birds.
- 2 things you can smell – it could be the smell of freshly brewed coffee, or the rain after a dry spell.
- 1 thing that you can taste. You could even treat yourself to some tasty sweet or chewing gum if you have it to hand at this stage.
6. Focus on one object
This technique is nice and simple, as all it requires is focussing on one object that you have to hand. It could be something like a watch, your keys, a hair clip. Close your eyes and really focus on the qualities of the object – its texture, how heavy it is, if it’s warm or cold.
7. Make a calming playlist
Think about music that you like that encourages you to stop what you’re doing and take things as a slower pace. The act of making this playlist in itself can be a good way to distract your mind. Once you have a list of songs that make you feel better and calmer, where possible, play this to yourself whenever you’re feeling overwhelmed.
8. Try relaxation techniques
If you’ve not tried activities like yoga, meditation and mindfulness, this is the perfect time to. These techniques can be practiced from most places to help you keep calm and focus on the present moment, especially when practised regularly.
9. Make time for activities you enjoy
When you’re under pressure, making time to do things that you enjoy can help you to feel more relaxed. Where possible, don’t let these activities fall out of your schedule – whether it’s reading, exercising, or making time to pamper yourself.
10. Talk to a loved one about how you’re feeling
When you’re feeling stressed, sharing what’s on your mind with someone you trust can make a huge difference to how you’re feeling. Getting your thoughts out of your head can help you to feel more positive about them, whilst also giving others the chance to offer their perspective and potential coping techniques that have worked for them in the past.
If you find that you’re still struggling after talking to someone else and it’s impacting your ability to live well, speak to a health professional who can give further support.
Naomi Humber is the head of mental well-being at Bupa UK.