Exam season is on us, and so are soaring stress levels. Stress is the way your body responds to any kind of demand or threat. When you feel threatened, your nervous system responds with a chain of stress hormones. These “helpers” prepare your body to take action during an emergency.
The difference between stress and panic
Don’t run away from stress, though! In the right amounts, at the right time, stress can be harnessed for its positive effects. When the brain recognises stress, your body releases chemicals like epinephrine, norepinephrine and cortisol. These “spike” blood pressure and heart rate which makes your senses more alert to avoid stressful emotional and physical situations. This can energise and motivate you to work more efficiently.
During stressful situations such as exams or interviews, you may be sharper than usual. This is known as Yerkes-Dodson Law, which suggests a relationship between performance and stimulation. The law was first described in 1908 by psychologists, who realised that mild electrical shocks motivated rats to complete a maze.
The trick here though was that when the shocks were too strong, the rats would panic and run in random directions.
In other words: don’t let the stress get too much! Here are a few ways to turn stress into exam fuel.
Refocus your anxiety about a particular exam in a positive way. Every time you feel “stressed”, re-channel that thought into one of success. Focus on being in the exam room, feeling confident and calm, and whizzing through the paper with ease. Visualisation is a popular and very useful technique for athletes, businessmen and celebrities – and almost everyone attests to its transformative power!
Sleep like a champ
Sleep helps your brain turn what you’ve learned into long-term knowledge. For some, six to eight hours is necessary. For others, shorts bursts of nap time intermixed with intervals of studying works better. Find your magic rhythm and stick to the formula. When you’re particularly stressed, and getting absolutely nothing productive done, rather take yourself off to bed to retain the knowledge you do have.
Soothe with food
When your body is well-nourished, you’ll cope better with stress. Eat a well-balanced meal and don’t skip meals, especially breakfast. Avoid junk food at all costs. Good foods to lessen stress levels include:
Research also shows that people who have breakfast before an exam perform better than those who skip a meal. Go for slow-release carbs (rolled oats, wholegrain bread), a protein, as well as an Omega-3 fat.
Breathe it out
Meditation and yoga have been popular for decades – with good reason. These stress-busting techniques work by increasing activity and connections in the parts of the brain that control thought, memory and focus.
Stressed? Be stressed
In other words, don’t stress about your stress! It’s an entirely normal (and useful) process. Acknowledge that you’re feeling stressed, anxious and panicky and just let yourself be. By allowing yourself to feel the way you’re feeling, you may conversely find yourself becoming calmer!
Turn up the tunes
Classical tunes, that is. According to research from the Duke Cancer Institute, classical music can lessen anxiety.