How to Cope with Exam Stress

We all feel stress at times. It is our bodies natural response when we experience something new, something unexpected, when we feel threatened or when we feel that we have no control over a situation. For some of us, stress can be a motivational tool and for others, it can make you feel anxious and even make you doubt yourself.

As it gets closer to your Apprentice Field Guide or Apprentice Trails Guide exams/assessments it is natural to start getting stressed out. Just remember it’s natural to put pressure on yourself to do well. For some student’s exams and assessments come easy, for others, it requires a lot more work, but if you follow some of our past students’ tried and tested tips it will help you reduce your stress levels before and after the exam and make you feel a whole lot better.

Photographs © Julia Wheeler

Take a deep breath

Taking deep breaths is a great way to get in contact with your mind and body.  When you feel yourself getting stressed out, take some me time, and help your body get rid of that negative energy.  It doesn’t have to be complicated, just something as simple as breathing in through your nose while slowly counting to four and then breathing out through your mouth for a count of four.

Exercise

Exercise has been shown to make you more productive and increase your mood. It’s a chance to give your body some much-needed playtime, which in turn helps to distract your brain from your exam worries.  It will help your body produce endorphins (happy hormones) while reducing your cortisol levels (stress hormones). It will also help you sleep better at night.

Whilst in camp make sure every day, that you go for a walk, practice yoga, challenge your course mates to a game of volleyball or football, skip, run or do any other kind of physical fitness, your body and your brain will thank you for it.

Take a break

Studying constantly and not giving yourself a break isn’t good for you. It is important for your mental well-being to take a break and give yourself something to look forward to. Go for a walk around the camp, have a five-minute hot shower, do some origami, bring an adult colouring book with you, or grab a hot drink. Getting away from your books will help you feel more tranquil, reinvigorated, and improve your creativity.

Photographs © Julia Wheeler

Don’t compare yourself to others

‘’Don’t compare yourself to others. That’s when you start to lose confidence in yourself’’ (Will Smith).

Everyone that comes to camp is on their own personal journey. It’s always great to see students studying together, testing each other on their knowledge of birds, frogs, etc, but try not to get frustrated if it seems like other people are in your group are further ahead than you. Chances are you know more than you think you do and everybody at some point in the course has that moment when everything just clicks. If you spend your time comparing your progress to others you will only stress yourself out unnecessarily.

Also, when possible avoid the exam post mortem where you pull apart everything you wrote and asking others what they wrote in theirs. Know that you have done your best and that from the moment you have handed in your exam what is done is done.

Speak up

If you are feeling overwhelmed talk to either an EcoTraining staff member or to your fellow course mates. We know that sometimes things can become too much, we are all here to help you, after all a problem shared is a problem halved and it’s always nice to know that someone has your back and that you are not alone.

Read

No, we don’t mean to read more books on trees or mammals, rather give your brain a break and read something different and for fun. According to the University of Sussex reading for pleasure can reduce your stress levels by 68%, not only that but it helps to lower your heart rate and ease the tension in your muscles.

Why not bring with you a couple of magazines or a book with you? You can also have a look in the camp’s library at the books that have been donated by EcoTraining staff and students.

Photographs © Julia Wheeler

Get some sleep

We have all been there, staying up late at night cramming for that test but this can be counterproductive.  Reducing the amount of sleep you get has been shown to increase your stress levels, which in turn can make it harder to fall asleep, making it easy to get caught in a vicious circle.

According to the BBC, ‘sleep itself is essential for embedding knowledge in the brain,’ if you are not getting enough sleep you are doing yourself a disservice as you won’t get the full effect of your studies unless you get enough sleep.

What are you thankful for?

Be kind to yourself.  It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when all you do is worry about failing your exam. Take some time every day to focus on the positive. It has been shown time and time again that taking the time to think about what you are grateful for can lower your blood pressure, help your immune system and lower your blood pressure.

The easiest way to do this is every day write down one to three things that made you happy or that you are grateful for. Another option is to take part in the 100 happy days challenge, where you take a photo every day, for 100 days of something that has made you happy, these pictures don’t have to be perfect but rather allow you to capture those raw moments of happiness.

Make a list?

Don’t set yourself up for failure by thinking that you need to try and learn 100 birds in your first week. Rather than focusing on perfection focus on progress. If you set yourself realistic goals and learn to celebrate not just the bigger victories but on the smaller ones as well you will feel less stressed.

I love lists and find that writing down a list of everything I need to do and then slowly start ticking those items off helps me a lot. Breaking things down into more manageable chunks helps you feel more in control.

About the Author: 

Emma Summers is an EcoTraining Camp Manager at Selati Game Reserve.