Top tips to de-stress during exam block

James Kirby is a PhD Clinical Psychologist at UQ. If there is one thing he knows like the back of his hand it is how to tackle exam stress - and the best coping mechanisms to get you through. 

With exam time upon us, students are feeling the heat of looming deadlines and multiple priorities. The important thing to remember is that everybody deals with stress differently so it is essential to recognise your own signs and take control before they control you.

Signs of stress

  • Irregular sleep patterns
  • Short temper and irritability
  • That gut feeling (butterflies)
  • Finding it difficult to relax or unwind
  • Overreacting to situations
  • Comfort food snacking or loss of appetite

If you are experiencing one, many, or all of these signs it is important that you do something about it to help you handle how you move forward.

Here are my top tips to de-stress during exam block:

  • Set the tone for your day - Take a few moments at the start of your day to set some good intentions and to collect your thoughts. It may sound like a no-brainer but it will give you a moment to pause before jumping into your busy day.
  • Create a schedule – Make a schedule or timetable for your day. For example, 8–8: 30am could be for wake up routine (shower, breakfast, etc); 8:30-9:30am could be for study; 9:30-9:45am could be for a short walk or break. Creating a schedule and allocating periods to study will help increase the chances of using your time effectively.
  • Divide your day up – Divvy your day into manageable study blocks (try 40-50 minute blocks to begin within and slowly build) and stick to them. Set yourself goals on what you want to complete in that time, then have a break well away from your desk.
  • Take a break (maybe even eat a Kit Kat) – Sitting down to study 24/7 in the lead up to exams will wreck you long before D-day. It may be chilly outside but there are huge benefits to getting a breath of fresh air to break up your study time. For any current students of UQ, take advantage of the lakes and get out and about at least every hour or two. It will do wonders for your motivation and creativity.
  • Turn your phone off in study period – mobile phones are an unhelpful distraction, so during your allocated study time, turn it off so you can focus on your work. The distraction of the phone can cause further stress.
  • Eat for your brain – Eat nutritious, little and often to avoid food comas. Go for quality food like vegetables, fruit, nuts and wholemeal bread to stimulate your brain and set yourself up for success.
  • Use your nerves, don’t let them use you – It may not feel like it at the time however positive nerves can actually be a good thing. They help you to work and think faster while being more effective with your time and overall performance.
  • Shake it off – Sometimes when you feel like your head is about to explode all you need to do is let off some steam. Do whatever makes you feel at ease, whether that’s a workout at the gym, making a nutritious meal, listen to some music, sit in the sun. Whatever it takes, give yourself that allotted time to shake the negativity and get back on task.
  • Warn your loved ones – Let your family and friends know what is going on. I am sure you have heard it all before, we often take our stress out on those that are the closest to us. This is the time when you need to be surrounded by support, not thinking about trivial disagreements.
  • Prioritise your study – It may sometimes feel that everyone wants a piece of your time (uni, work, friends, family) but where you can, try to explain your situation so you can put your study first and make plans for your other commitments after exams are over.

If you feel that your nerves or anxiety are significantly impacting your ability to study or complete your exams, please consider seeing a psychologist or counsellor. Counselling is a free service offered to all currently enrolled UQ students, if you wish to find more information or to book an appointment click here.

Last updated:
16 June 2016