Exams Are Still Coming. Are You Feeling Overwhelmed?

By College of the Rockies Modified on April 06, 2020

A college counsellor provides tips to overcome those pre-test jitters.

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College of the Rockies counsellor Chris McHolm with advice on minimizing anxieties during exam time.

If you get a bit of a knot in your stomach, or if you find your heart starts racing when you think of writing an exam, you're not alone. It's not uncommon to feel anxiety about exams; in fact, most people do! But exam anxiety doesn't have to overwhelm you. A few simple strategies can banish your worries and help you keep your focus on acing that exam.

Even with things so up in the air during the COVID-19 pandemic, you'll still have to write exams one way or another! Best to start thinking ahead.

Listen to your body

Though exam anxiety may seem to be all in your head, Chris McHolm, counsellor at College of the Rockies in Cranbrook, B.C., recommends also listening to your body.

"While it might seem most productive to sit and study for hours at a time, it is actually better to take breaks and move your body," he said. "That might mean going for a short walk, participating in a sport, doing some stretches, or challenging yourself to some pushups. Moving physically can be just the brain break you need."

Sleep well and eat healthy

In addition to physical movement, McHolm recommends getting the rest you need and watching what you eat.

"Creating unhealthy sleep patterns by staying up late to study actually can do more harm than good," he said. "Although we all have a different sleep cycle, try for a regular 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night. You'll be more refreshed and may have an easier time absorbing the material when you sit down to study. And as tempting as it is to fuel your study sessions with fast food, chips and chocolate, and copious amounts of caffeine — or to forget about eating altogether — you'll benefit much more from eating healthy foods regularly throughout the day."

Acknowledge your anxiety

Though paying attention to your physical health is a great coping strategy, sometimes there's just no distracting yourself from the anxiety in your mind. In those cases, McHolm recommends acknowledging the feelings that you're experiencing.

"Don't try to fight the feelings of anxiety," he said. "The more you try to push them away, the more likely they are to keep coming back. When you acknowledge your fears and anxiety, and talk about them with a trusted friend, parent, teacher, or a counsellor, it can often be enough to start seeing that anxiousness melt away."

Practice mindfulness

On the flip side, as important as it is to connect with others and to talk about the stress you're feeling, sometimes some quiet alone time can be equally beneficial. As mindfulness and meditation become more mainstream, there are many apps that can help you take a few moments for yourself to focus on what is happening in the moment. Many communities also have centres or organizations that provide mindfulness services.

"You may be surprised how beneficial just focusing on your own breath can be," McHolm said. "A few moments of mindfulness can help you to remember to focus on what is happening right now. Not only can it help you to be a more present studier, but it may also help to take a break from the overwhelming worry about the future, the exam, and more."

The key is self-care

So while good study habits throughout the year are, of course, essential to doing well on exams, you'll do well to focus on these healthy habits that can help you to curb anxiety and better focus on preparing for the exam. And above all, remember that some degree of exam anxiety is natural, but with a little self-care, you'll get through it!

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