It has come around to that time of year again. Nights and mornings are becoming lighter, the sun is peeking out (a little bit) and the summer holidays don’t feel so far away anymore! Despite there being lots of positives at this time of year, for some, it can be tough as exams begin to approach. If you are in this position and you are finding yourself feeling more stressed than usual at the moment because of looming exams, this is natural and please remember this is temporary!
Although it doesn't feel like it, sometimes a little bit of stress can be helpful. It can motivate us to push ourselves to work hard and move closer towards a goal we want to achieve. However, when stress stays around for a long period of time or feels really big and overwhelming, this can then become unhelpful and can begin to impact our emotional well-being.
Stress looks completely different in everyone. Some signs that may indicate stress is becoming unhelpful for you might be: (Reference: https://www.apa.org/topics/children/stress#:~:text=Signs%20of%20stress%20in%20youth,tempered%20or%20argumentative%20than%20normal.)
- Becoming more snappy, irritated, frustrated or angry more often and easier than usual.
- Feeling more tearful than usual or less confident, more worried.
- Sudden changes in behaviour e.g. from being really active and playing out all of the time to no longer wanting to go out, or not wanting to spend quality time with loved ones like you did before.
- Change in sleeping, either by sleeping far too much or not being able to sleep (struggling to fall asleep or waking up a lot)
- Feeling tired a lot- needing to take naps unlike before.
- Beginning to neglect responsibilities unlike before, for example not completing/ falling behind on homework, forgetting about commitments, or procrastinating more than usual.
- Eating too much or too little/ feeling increasingly hungry or like not eating much.
- Feeling poorly more often, for example headaches, stomach aches, and other sicknesses. Stress can often appear in the form of physical symptoms too.
- Experiencing other physical symptoms way more than usual such as tense muscles, a tight jaw, teeth-grinding or nail biting etc.
These are not the only signs of stress, and there may be other reasons for someone to experience any of the above. However, experiencing some of the above symptoms may be an indication that you need to pause for a second and recognise what you need in order to stay well.
Mental health tips for exam time;
A clever American Psychologist called Maslow, created a well known and used theory called Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. He explained that in order for us humans to thrive and maintain good wellbeing, there is a ladder of needs which need to be fulfilled. It works almost like building; You can’t just have a castle magically appear before you without building it up step by step. For example, the groundworks first, and then the walls and then the roof. Or thinking of it another way, you cannot bake a lovely cake without first gathering all of the ingredients and then whisking together the eggs, flour, and sugar etc.
It is important we try our best to fulfil these needs at all points in our lives however at exam time when we may be experiencing some of the above stress symptoms, it is even more important to be kind to ourselves and take time to consider what we need in order to keep thriving and get through this!
1. First things first, we need to make sure our physiological needs are met. A fueled machine is an efficient machine. To function we need; Enough good nutritious food, plenty of water and the right amount of good quality sleep. It can be very easy to neglect these things when we feel stressed!
2. Secondly, safety and security. This includes having access to things such as a safe home, feeling safe at school, having safe, reliable adults around you, and having access to professionals when you need help such as a doctor.
These first two are basic human needs and without these, we might find it hard to move up the hierarchy. If you feel like some of these needs are not being met, please speak to a reliable adult who can then help you with this or who can help you find the right person to help you with this.
3. Third are our social needs. This is through feeling loved and a sense of belonging. We can do this by making time for quality time with friends and family, or seeking opportunities to make new friendships such as joining clubs. At exam time, it may feel like trying to fit this in around school and studying is impossible, however it is a good idea to try and dedicate a bit of time aside in your week for this. Even if it is just calling a friend or watching a little bit of TV with someone in your home.
4. Fourth is Esteem. This comes from both having good self esteem and confidence in ourselves, and also having respect and appreciation from others.
5. The fifth and final stage of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is self actualization. This is the place we all strive to get to, but may be difficult to get to without taking care of all of the prior steps (especially 1 and 2). Here, we can recognize our potential (whatever that may be) and strive for personal growth and achieve the goals we have for ourselves and our lives.
To summarise, exam time can naturally often be a difficult time in life. If you feel like you are finding this time tough, take a look at Maslow's hierarchy and figure out what you might be needing to stay well and get through this, and be kind to yourself. If you feel like you need some support, we encourage you to reach out.
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