While school can be fun and exciting, at times it can also be quite stressful. Stress is a natural feeling – in small amounts it allows us to push ourselves to achieve our goals, such as during exam time. However, when our stress levels get too high, this is when we start to see the negative impacts – at this point, our stress needs to be managed and brought back down to that happy medium.
There are many reasons why you might be feeling stressed and these are going to be different for everyone – we will unpack some of the common reasons. We will also look at what steps you can take (as a student or parent) to help alleviate stress in each of these areas.
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What’s causing the stress?
If we can understand where the stress is coming from, we’re more likely to manage it.
Often if you are feeling particularly stressed before an exam, it might be because you’re underprepared. There are two main things to keep in mind when that’s the case.
The first one is pretty obvious: don’t leave it until the last minute! Once you understand that a lack of preparedness is causing the stress, then you’re less likely to procrastinate and more likely to start studying a few weeks out. For some of us, a big exam is always going to be the cause of some anxiety, but we get to control how much and when that anxiety occurs. So, if we study a few weeks out, we’re likely to feel less anxious closer to the date of the exam. A bit of stress is okay a few weeks out, but we want to try to lessen it around the night before the exam!
The second tip is to remember: you’re always more prepared than you think you are. For some subjects, the syllabus is huge, with lots of different topics to cover. Our minds intuitively focus on those subjects we’re weakest in (which is a good thing for studying purposes), but it can often make us feel more vulnerable for the exam than we actually are. On the night before the exam, and the day of, try to visualise those parts of the exam with which you’re most comfortable. It’s like a cricket match: why would you visualize getting clean bowled!
A lack of balance
Stress may also be caused by a lack of balance – if you’re overcommitting to study then chances are, you’re sacrificing other equally important aspects of your life: sleep, social time, family time, exercise, work. It’s important that you still take time for yourself – think of school and study as just another working part of the equation.
Final exams do not mean that you have to put all other aspects of your life on hold. In fact, exercise, socialising and good sleep is what your brain needs to process all of that information that you have (so tirelessly) crammed into your brain!
Exercising releases those ‘feel-good’ hormones called endorphins. They act as a pick-me-up, can help you cope with stress and create a general feeling of wellbeing. Add in the socialising, and you’ve got the release of oxytocin which once again reduces stress and anxiety by relaxing the brain and providing the psychological stability you need to perform your best. Finally, getting in those 8 hours of sleep is necessary to provide you with the energy you need to bring your best mindset and kick another day.
Having a structure or schedule that combines all aspects of your life (from social to study to me-time) will ensure you can switch off from school when you aren’t studying and focus only on study when you’re at your desk, pen in hand. Remember to factor in the time for yourself, you might choose to make a ritual - stick to that ritual, even on exam days. That ritual might be taking your dog for a walk or simply making your morning coffee. Even those few minutes can make the world of a difference in your stress levels each day.
Thinking everything depends on this
This one is closely linked to the above point. If you take the mindset that everything depends on how you perform in school, you are going to create a very pressuring and stressful environment for yourself. This can be super counterintuitive as such extreme pressure can actually affect your performance and results in an adverse way.
It is important to break it all down and put each assessment into perspective. And remember, your future does not at all rest on your performance in school - there are so many alternative avenues and career choices available which are not dictated by your final year 12 results.
If you’re feeling comfortable, prepared and are maintaining a healthy balance, but you’re still feeling stressed about an exam - that's a sign that the pressure is coming from elsewhere. Now the source of that pressure will be different for everyone: maybe your school, your parents, or competitiveness with fellow classmates.
The best way to deal with this kind of pressure is to remind yourself and those around you that you’re running your own race and dealing with it in your own way. At the end of the day, your marks affect you and you only, and the best students are those who are self-motivated.
If you don’t feel comfortable speaking up about this, one way to handle external pressure is to manage the people you’re spending time with in the lead-up to more stressful periods such as exam time – do what’s right for you and take time for yourself if that’s what you need.
A problem shared is a problem halved! A student's stress can also be managed with a helping hand from one of our amazing KIS tutors who have been through it all before – book a free study skills consultation to get the ball rolling now!