Keeping a balance between enough sleep, time with family and friends as well as maintaining a good study routine can be a difficult thing to manage. Add into the mix, the stress of exams and the need to achieve the grades you want to get into your university course can become too overwhelming.
When we are stressed large quantities of cortisol and other stress hormones are dumped into our bodies and our breathing becomes shallow. We starve our brain of oxygen and over extended periods, this can lower our immune system, play havoc with our digestive system and affect our ability to think clearly.
Here are a few simple strategies which can help to bring down those stress levels;
1. Breathe – This may sound very simple and obvious but just one minute of proper breathing can rid the entire bloodstream of cortisol. You can do this during your study period or even in the middle of an exam. Take a long, slow, deep breath in following it with your mind from the bottom of your stomach, all the way up to into your throat. Hold it for a second or two and then slowly let the breath out, again following it all the way from your throat down to the bottom of your stomach. Repeat at least three times.
2. Move – Breaking your study time into manageable chunks is a good strategy. Exercising, stretching or getting up to walk around – ideally outside – gives the oxygen an opportunity to move around your mind and body. (Not to be used in the middle of an exam ☹)
3. Focus on your feet – Often when we become stressed, all the energy, thoughts and chatter is concentrated in our head. If you think about your feet, the focus shifts and the energy will move more evenly through your body. Keep the focus on your feet for just a couple of minutes.
4. Be creative – Doing something creative is great for one’s mental well-being. It takes one’s mind off the stressful situation and allows you to immerse yourself in joyful activity such as colouring, painting or building something.
5. Meditate – Meditation does not have to be a cross legged pose on a mountain top or chanting for three hours a day. The objective is to create a break in the ‘rant’ or stressful chain of thoughts and give your mind and body a chance to relax and calm down. You can do this by breathing evenly for a couple of minutes and;
• Focusing on an object such the varying patterns on a wall or a fence.
• Focusing on a mantra – this can be a simple two to three word phrase such as “release and relax” or “releasing exam stress” or “let it go” repeated about ten times. This can be said out load or quietly to yourself and whilst you are doing it, be conscious of breathing evenly.
• Listening to some relaxing music with a simple beat. Be aware of each sound and of your breathing.
• Visualising something soothing and calming like a waterfall, a park or a beach. It could also be a happy occasion or an event with people that you love. Create a clear image in your mind and see it in as much detail and in as much colour as you can. Continue to focus on this for a full 4-5 minutes.
During each of these practices, the mind will inevitably begin to wander back to the stress or even practical issues like what you are having for dinner etc. However, like most things in life it can take practice, but I can guarantee you that the results are worth it.