Stress levels can be higher than usual around exam time.
While a bit of stress can actually be helpful, as it gives you a reason to stay motivated and focused, too much stress can be unhelpful and in some cases disruptive.
"Adopting the right attitude can convert a negative stress into a positive one."
- Hans Selye
What are External Stressors?
Ok before we deal with the actual exams themselves, let's talk about external stressors.
So what are external stressors?
Put simply external stressors are everyday extra hassles outside of our own personal stress.
It's important to acknowledge that are different stages of a person's life these external stressors are different and will change so below is a list of the most common external stressors for people aged 15 to 25:
- Social media
- Family instability
- Death of a loved one
- Preparing for university
- Preparing for interviews
A lot of the time when it comes to external stressors, people opt for the easier option which is to keep the situation peaceful. Therefore they will do what is necessary to keep other people happy, which in turn can often lead to feelings of low self-esteem and even depression.
Yes, I have a diploma in psychology, and one in mental health. I'm also a personal well-being trainer.
But speaking from personal experience, the reason we tried to keep other people happy is that at the time it seems like the only choice.
When we are at that age of 15-25, particularly when we are dealing with exams, being a teenager/young adult which is damn hard, while also trying to get into the right university/apprenticeship/job. It's hard to balance our friendships relationships and family life which may not be ideal.
Sometimes, because we are so busy with school or college or work when people ask we feel the only thing we can do is just say yes to going out or for help. Instead of putting boundaries in place, when friends and family, ask for a time even though it may be limited because we have so much on we feel pressure to oblige so that way they won't get mad or sad or feel let down by us.
Given at the time you're saying yes so that they won't get mad at you or feel sad or feel let down.
After you go out for that late night, babysit and run out of time for study, or whenever it is. It's actually you who feels all of those sad and let down at yourself. This is what makes it an external stressor it adds to your feeling of stress, anxiety and low self-esteem.
What are Internal Stressors
Internal stressors are the sources of stress that are inside us and are often the most common sources of stress. They are the thoughts and feelings that pop into your head and cause you to feel unease.
Your everyday emotions can be internal stressors, as can mental illnesses such as anxiety or depression. Your thinking patterns can lead to detrimental stress buildup.
Examples of internal stressors:
- Pessimistic personality - Pessimistic attitude that things will go wrong and that people's wishes or aims are unlikely to be fulfilled.
- Negative self-talk - Basically, negative self-talk is any inner dialogue you have with yourself that may be limiting your ability to believe in yourself and your own abilities, and to reach your potential.
- Perfectionist complex - Perfectionists strain compulsively and unceasingly toward unattainable goals and measure their self-worth by productivity and accomplishment.
- Low self-esteem - Low self-esteem is when someone lacks confidence about who they are and what they can do. They often feel incompetent, unloved, or inadequate. People who struggle with low self-esteem are consistently afraid of making mistakes or letting other people down.
- Body dysmorphic disorder - BDD is a mental health condition where a person spends a lot of time worrying about flaws in their appearance. These flaws are often unnoticeable to others. People of any age can have BDD, but it's most common in teenagers and young adults.
The only way to effectively handle internal stressors is to change your way of thinking. It might take a conversation with a friend or a therapist, lots of journal writing or finding an outlet in the arts to help remould your preconceptions.
"Because every day is a new day. Every moment is a new moment. Now you've got to go out and show them that you're a new creature.”
- Ray Lewis
On top of all the everyday stressors you may be dealing with, Exams can add even more weight during school and college. Exam stress is the feeling of tension and worry that comes from test-taking situations.
It is normal to feel some stress about upcoming tests, exams, papers or presentations. Indeed, a small amount of stress can challenge you and stimulate you to work harder.
However it's when that stress causes you to worry more, experience anxiety or depression, lose sleep, become forgetful, irritable, overwhelmed, exhausted and feel out of control.
This can really impact your ability to prepare for your assignments and exams, as well as negatively affect your levels of performance and sense of wellbeing.
What Helps with Exam Stress?
Believe it or not, there are actually a few things for a student to try that can help alleviate some of that exam stress.
Keep a routine and take regular breaks!
It's important to have regular study breaks and make time for relaxation and exercise.
Some people find that practising mindfulness helps you focus on what's happening right at this moment. For others physical activities such as taking a walk, running, or to the gym are not a waste of time, they let you blow off some steam. Some people prefer to zone out and play a console game or read a book, taking a break from reality is a great way to clear your head and can help you focus. Watching your favourite TV show or going to the movies are also good ways to take a break from studying.
Whatever works for you is good, an hour or two off each day is good for your mind.
External pressures around exams can be huge. These can be hard to deal with, especially with family and people you respect. You need to remember that it's your life and your exam, with you in control.
Tips to help you manage expectations:
- Base expectations on your past performance and do the best you can do.
- Put the exam in context. In the overall scheme of things, how important is it?
- Tell people about what you think is realistic. Talk to them, find out what they hope for you and tell them what you are thinking and feeling.
- Talk to people about how you are feeling, and see if they have any advice or help they can offer.
- Ask for and accept support from those around you, especially family members.
If you don't do as well as you'd hoped there are always alternatives. It's not going to dictate whether you are a good or a bad person, or whether you are a success or failure.
Look after yourself!
I cannot emphasise this point enough, your health is more important than any exam. You can always repeat!
It's easy to let exams get on top of you and to forget to look after yourself.
If possible, try to get as close to 8 hours of sleep as you can every night.
Lots of people would be at you to eat healthily, but I just want you to remember to eat regular meals. That beautiful brain can't feed itself.
Keep hydrated, the less you drink the more tired, sad and irritated you become, not to mention those study headaches! A coffee or two is fine to start the day but really it should be water all day! Water helps your brain cells communicate with each other, clears out toxins and waste that impairs brain function, and carries nutrients to your brain. This all falls apart if your fluid levels drop. Staying hydrated has been linked to faster decision-making and improved performance on cognitive tests.
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