A collaboration brought to you by: Dr. Georgiana Farrugia Bonnici, BSc (Hons) Rad; M.D. (Medical Doctor) & Dr. Madeline Duca, B.Psy (Hons) (Melit.), D.EdPsy (Lond.) (Educational & Child Psychologist who also forms part of Therapy Works Clinic)
The June examination period is once again with us. With it also begin the long hours of studying or perhaps even all-nighters, accompanied by humungous cups of coffee, energy drinks and an endless list of things to memorize!
This year is very different from previous years at University. Whilst excessive stress levels tend to normally rise amongst many students during exam period, it is also expected to reach new highs this year, amidst the Covid-19 global pandemic which has brought several other issues including fear of uncertainty, personal safety and anxiety amidst social isolation.
Anxiety is a normal response to stressful life situations or events, however when symptoms become so significant that they interfering with your everyday life, you may need to seek professional support.
Thus, we would like to start discussing this topic by delving into the characteristics of anxiety.
Anxiety typically involves an emotional component such as nervousness or fear; a physiological component, which may include agitation and fast breathing, trembling, high heart rate, fatigue or stomach churning; as well as a cognitive component, such as an impending sense of doom, excessive worry, and negative thoughts. Anxiety may also cause difficulty with concentration and working memory (holding information for the short-term). Some may also feel generally overwhelmed, and lack motivation.
These characteristics can ultimately affect our daily behaviour, for example through putting off academic tasks, avoiding people or social situations, avoiding having to deal with difficult situations, difficulty falling or staying asleep, engaging in excessive smoking, drinking too much alcohol or excessive use of drugs. Needless to say, each individual differs in their ability to be resilient, and to continue to thrive in stressful life situations.
For students, their ability to cope with examination stress or anxiety can be influenced by the current year of studies they are enrolled in, present or past negative experiences, relationship or family issues. Their ability to cope well with exams is also influenced by the suitability of the environment they study in, their time management and organisational skills, as well as the overall ability to cope with exam-related stress, and their overall attitude towards exams. Resilience also includes the ability to foster positive attitudes towards life, and to perceive challenges as opportunities for growth.
We would like to point out some strategies that University students can try throughout this global pandemic to ease out some of the stress during the upcoming examination period, but also in their everyday life.
It is never too late to set up good study habits in order to help your general mental well-being during any exam period:
• Set up a quiet study space to study without distractions. Although this year you are not able to access the school library, you can still try to find a specific spot in your house where you can set up as a workspace. You may also wish to study at particular times, when the house tends to be quieter, perhaps late in the evening or early morning.
• Set up a visual schedule, with specific eating and sleeping times. This will help you to focus more during your study time, as you will know that in a few hours time, you will get a well-deserved break.
• Make a study schedule to plan what you want to work on every day. This will help control your feelings of being out of control. Break down long tasks into smaller, achievable steps. Seeing that you have done some work will motivate you to try again tomorrow, or perhaps study more.
• Take regular, short breaks. Try not to remain at your laptop, or lounge in front of the TV during breaks. Rest your eyes, have a drink, get something healthy to eat or take a brief walk outside.
• Reward yourself for achieving your study goals. Watch an extra episode of your favourite series, or perhaps take a sip of your favourite cocktail!
• Learn to use mind-maps. Creating mind-maps can help you collect ideas, thoughts or crucial information together, by using bright colours and markers to help you remember important links.
• Remain connected with your friends and extended family members through video-calls. While this may help alleviate feelings of loneliness during the pandemic, it may also serve for opportunities to ask for help with topics you’re struggling to understand. Having someone else explain something to you may be helpful.
• Get a good 6 to 8 hour sleep, if possible. A rested brain functions better than an exhausted one. Your brain needs to recharge and remember what you have learnt.
• Avoid eating junk-food. Although very tempting, high sugary foods such as sweets, and fizzy drinks will give you a burst of energy, they will eventually leave you feeling worn-out and tired. Instead try to eat a balanced diet composed of fruit and vegetables, cereals and grains, nuts and proteins which are all good for the brain and help to boost long-lasting energy. Drinking plenty of water goes without saying.
• Take some time-out and take care of yourself. Try out some relaxation activities such as yoga or meditation. Mindfulness is a more advanced technique, which helps you focus on being fully present in the moment, and experience what is going on around you as it happens. Practicing mindfulness will help you focus more on the task at hand, while also helping your mind and body feel calmer. Alternatively, you can also simply listen to your favourite music, close your eyes and practice some deep breathing exercise. Some may prefer to go for a run, or do some indoor training.
• You might also want to talk to someone, or wish to find ways of coping better during exam time. That is also okay. There are various health professionals and therapy services who are available to assist you.
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