WHEN we are busy and feeling overwhelmed we tend to forget to do many of the things that we normally enjoy. Meeting up with friends, exercising or even just relaxing. This is what often happens to students in exam years. It can be more difficult to take care of ourselves during this busy time, as most of the days are taken up with revision, homework and school.
However it’s important that students take the time to look after their mental wellbeing.
Taking the time for self-care even during this busy time will not only improve the effectiveness of study, but will also improve overall exam performance. When we are overly stressed our cognitive functioning is impaired and it can be more difficult to concentrate and think clearly and quickly in an exam. There are a number of things that students can do to care for their overall wellbeing, both mental and physical over the coming months.
THE BASICS, DIET, EXERCISE AND SLEEP
I think we are all more aware these days of the importance of a healthy balanced diet. This is especially important for exam students. Many young people rely on high sugar foods and drinks to get them through the day, however eating a more healthily will avoid energy crashes and will have better long term outcomes regarding thinking and concentration levels.
Many students feel that they need to cut back on the amount of exercise and sport they do.
While this may be somewhat necessary, it’s important to continue to regularly exercise to maintain positive wellbeing and channel the inevitable stresses over the coming months.
While most of us are getting better in relation to diet and exercise, when it comes to sleep, young people are often not getting nearly enough. There are a number of reasons for this.
We all know how difficult it can be to drift off when our minds are active with thoughts running around our heads. These days young people can be distracted by technology, often staying up until the early hours on their phones or tablets. For all young people and especially exam students, it’s important to develop a good bedtime routine where there is time to wind down and where screen time is limited. This allows our natural sleeping rhythm to kick in and help us get enough restful sleep.
Leaving cert students should typically be getting 7-8 hours per night minimum. There are many benefits to getting adequate rest. It helps to encode new information, increases our ability to learn, reduces stress and improves our overall mood and helps us to think more clearly.
MANAGING THINKING AND PERCEPTIONS
One of the most challenging aspects of preparing for the exams are our thought processes.
We are all wired to see the negative in people, situations and events before we see the positives. This is caused by our negativity bias which is there to help us avoid dangerous situations. However this can also cause us to be overly critical of ourselves. We can then begin to see ourselves in a very negative way.
This means that the story we are telling ourselves, about ourselves becomes very critical and negative. I’m not good enough, I’m not working hard enough, etc. this can lead to catastrophising, which is when we begin to imagine scenarios where everything we do goes wrong, like failing the exams or not being able to remember anything when we are in an exam.
It is important that we become aware of these negative thought patterns and challenging them. One helpful way to do this is to develop self-compassion. Whenever you feel that your inner critic is getting the better of you, pause, breathe and ask yourself the following three questions.
Are these thoughts kind to me?
Are they helpful to me?
Are they really true?
More often than not when we challenge negative thinking we quickly realise just how overly critical we are being of ourselves.
THE COMPARING PLACE
Comparing ourselves to others is one of the most damaging things that we can do to our sense of wellbeing. Young people spend a lot of their time comparing themselves less favourable to others both in the real world and on social media. We tend to see others in a more positive light than ourselves.
Students will often look around at their classmates and feel that they are all more clever and working harder than they are.
It’s inevitable at times to compare ourselves to others, but it’s important to be aware of the negative effect this has on our wellbeing.
Students should focus on their own strengths and concentrate on the things they need to do over the coming months and try to avoid comparing themselves to others. Its import that also for parents to be aware that telling students how well a sibling or neighbour did in their exams will not be helpful, in fact it will have the opposite effect on a student’s motivation.
TAKING CARE OF OUR NEEDS
Finally students need to remember to take care of their needs. We all have needs that need to be met and our children are no different. An easy way for children to remember their needs is by using the acronym CAN DO.
Connect – with family and friends.
Active – Making time for exercise and some fun.
Notice – feelings and taking action when feeling stressed or overwhelmed.
Do Good – Helping others will boost your mood and sense of wellbeing.
Open to learning – new ways of doing things, such as planning and organising study.
The most important thing to remember that although exams are important, the most important thing of all is a student’s wellbeing.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Alan White is a second level teacher at Bishopstown Community School and Wellbeing Author. He also facilitates wellbeing workshops for companies and organisations. See www.changeswellbeing.ie linkedin Alan White or facebook Changes Wellbeing.
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