How to take care of your wellbeing during exam year (Part 4)

In part four of our week long series, ALAN WHITE, teacher and wellbeing author, shares some advice for students on how to stay well during what can be a challenging year
How to take care of your wellbeing during exam year (Part 4)

SCHOOLS have become very focused on student wellbeing over the past number of years. Young people now have the opportunity to learn key skills in taking care of their physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual needs. However, during times of high stress, we often disregard these needs as we put all of our focus on the challenges we need to overcome.

Stress creates tunnel vision and many young people become frustrated and overwhelmed when their sole focus is on exam preparation, and they fail to take care of their wellbeing. This can quickly become counterproductive as students quickly become exhausted and lacking in motivation. Building activities that enhance wellbeing into daily routines can help students become more productive and successful in their schoolwork. There are some simple things students can do to look after their wellbeing over the busy months ahead.

Focus On What You Can Control

Stress can create negative thought patterns that can have a negative effect on motivation and performance. Throughout the Leaving Cert year, many students become overly critical of themselves, often thinking that they are not good enough, they are not working hard enough or that everyone else is better than them or doing more than them. Other thoughts can also become intrusive such as “I am going to fail”, or “I won’t do well enough to get the course or apprenticeship I want”.

To counteract negative thinking one of the key things that students can control is focusing on the things they can control. Focusing on what is in our control allows us to gain some control over lives and concentrate on the things we can do to allow us the best chance for success in the future.

When students focus on doing the best they can, completing schoolwork and revising in an organised, planned way, it allows them to feel a sense of independence and an ability to give themselves the best chance of success.

Meeting Your Needs

Working towards the Leaving Cert can be an all-consuming endeavor. When all of our focus is on one thing in our lives, we tend to get tunnel vision and neglect to take care of other important aspects of our lives. Although you won’t have the same amount of free time over the coming months, it is still important to take time to meet your needs.

There is a simple acronym that can help you to remember some of the important areas in your life that need to be taken care of to maintain your personal wellbeing. This is CAN DO, and it stands for:

· Connect – making time to spend with family and friends.

· Active – Getting exercise and having fun.

· Notice – Take notice of feelings and how you are feeling about yourself.

· Do Good – Be kind to yourself and others, be kind and help others when you can.

· Open to Learn – Be open to new ways of doing things and learning new things.

Meeting our needs helps to create a more resilient mindset which helps overcome challenges and work consistently towards achieving a goal.

Acknowledging Success

It can be easy to simply define success as doing well in the exams. The outcome of the Leaving Cert is important, however it is also important to acknowledge the daily successes that you experience as that will help motivation and wellbeing. Success is built through small achievements over a long period of time. It could be the concept you found difficult that you finally understand. The answer technique that you found challenging at first but can successfully use now.

These small successes not only improve exam performance and increase positive results, but also help our wellbeing. Every time we overcome a challenge in our lives, we become more competent and resilient and gain increased self-belief that we can overcome future challenges in our lives. When the inevitable hard days come over the next few months, focus on the successes you have already achieved and use these as a platform for inspiration.

Comparing Ourselves to Others

One of the most detrimental things we can do for our wellbeing is compare ourselves to others. The problem with comparing ourselves to others is that more often than not we compare ourselves unfavorably. It’s great to have positive role models in our lives, those people we look up to and would like to achieve similar things as they have. However, when we are stressed and anxious, we tend to focus on those that we believe are doing more than us or better than us.

When you find yourself comparing yourself in a negative way to your friends and classmates, remember, it is important to focus on the things you are doing to help your progress. 

Realistic reflection in this way allows us to look at what we have accomplished and see what we need to do in order to achieve the best results possible.

Although exams are important, they will never be more important than your wellbeing. Over the next few months, it is important to work hard and do your best, but also take the time to take care of yourself. Taking care of yourself will allow you to perform at your best and increase the chances of success.

Alan White is a second level teacher, 6th Year Head and wellbeing author at Bishopstown Community School. He also facilitates wellbeing workshops for companies and organisations. For more information visit www.changeswellbeing.ie linkedin Alan White or facebook Changes Wellbeing

Tomorrow: How parents can support their child through exam year

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