We know many of you have children or grandchildren who are facing school or university exams in the next couple of months - you might even be facing exams yourself.
It's worth thinking about how to reduce stress during this time and for this week's blog, we invited a second year University of Otago student, Sofia Amer, to pen her thoughts on how she manages exam stress and maintaining some sort or balance. Please share with your loved ones...
As the days start to get warmer and the end of the year creeps closer and closer the library starts to fill up as exams loom over the student population. This is my second time doing end of year uni exams, yet the same feeling of dread still forms in my chest every time an exam is mentioned. For most students this is the most stressful time of the year and often leads to academic burn out.
This is a pretty rough time of the year for students’ mental health because of the cumulation of so many hours and days spent inside in the mundane routine studying the same material. Stress levels are high and a lack of sleep causes brain reaction times to decease, slowing our thinking abilities down. I try to maintain a healthy routine during exams which keeps me happy and active.Exercise
Regular exercise is something that directly impacts my concentration during the day and is an important part of my daily routine that I try to continue through exams.
In the morning, I do a Yoga or Pilates class at Hot Yoga Dunedin which gets me out of bed early in the morning. This means that I start my day doing something enjoyable, and I wake up excited to go to class, instead of dreading going to the library. In the evenings, after eating a healthy dinner I usually go straight to dance for a couple of hours, before heading back to the library. This breaks up my study day and allows me to divide my study into morning, afternoon and evening slots, with two set times of the day for movement and exercise.
One thing that I more recently employed this year during exam season is more walking. Instead of going to the library closest to me, I choose to go to a further away library so I get more time outside and in the fresh air. This is something that a lot of my friends encouraged me to do and another habit that a lot of us have started doing is walking home for lunch, instead of packing it, to give our brains a better break. Even though it is only a 10 minute walk to campus, doing the numerous walks allows me to spend more time in the fresh air and get in a few extra steps to break up a long day sitting down.Friendships
These healthy study patterns have formed from being around people who are in a similar routine to me, who also are wanting to achieve similar outcomes in their exams. It is a lot more motivating going to the library when you have a mate to sit with, or even better, a mate to study with if you are doing the same paper. I am a lot more productive when I have someone sitting beside me, because it motivates me to do my work, and not get distracted by my phone or start doing something else on my computer.Sleep
Something I still struggle with is maintaining a regular sleep pattern. I spend a decent chunk of my evenings at dance and usually still have work to do afterwards, so I study for another couple of hours into the night. I guess this is because I am willing to sacrifice a couple of hours sleep to be able to spend time dancing with my friends, or going out on the weekend.
Dance is something I love and it makes me very happy, but I still need to get in all my uni work. Most of the people around me only block out one section of the day to exercise or chill which allows a bit more time for sleeping. Whereas when I am very busy, it is usually sleep that I do not prioritise. I am aware this is not a very healthy habit and I try not to let this go on for long periods at a time so that I can maintain more of a balance between uni, sleep, exercise and hobbies.Living environment
My first year of university was defiantly a shock to the system as I personally found the hall lifestyle not great. It was difficult to find balance, because I had to plan my day around the hall meal times, which didn’t fit in great with my yoga and dance schedule.
Living in a flat has allowed me to control my schedule more and eat healthier and cleaner - something that many people struggle with when in first year halls. Being in halls during exam season was also pretty hard going. It was just an on-going competition of who was putting in the most hours at the library, and who was going to get into med school. All social activities stopped around the same time as lectures finished up and I was constantly feeling guilty or not good about myself or my study when I was spending time with my home friends, or at dance.
Getting away from all those conversations and patterns this year and surrounding myself with people of more similar habits and routines has allowed me to keep living my balanced lifestyle during exams.
Maintaining my hobbies and social activities during exams works better for me because I am more motivated in my limited study time. I know that I have to get my work done if I want to go out and continue doing both dance and yoga every day.
Putting in long hours at the library with no breaks and nothing to look forward to doesn’t work for me, and I have found that living a more balanced lifestyle is the key to good results and good mental health.