Quick tips to reduce stress during a hectic exam season

Young student reading in a library

It’s a stressful time of year for students. Exam season means juggling a busy study schedule, wrapping up the academic year and, for some, looking for summer employment while hunting for new housing accommodations. It’s easy to forget to take care of yourself when feeling the exam crunch.

When I was in university, “self-care” was introduced through a training program that I was taking for peer crisis counsellors. Our group was learning to encourage those in distress to practice self-care, but also to use it ourselves.

At first, self-care seemed to be just one more thing on an ever-growing list of daunting tasks, but I quickly realized how powerful it could be. And while I learned this strategy in the context of crisis counselling, it’s something that I’ve since tried to apply to every aspect of my life, regardless of the hat I’m wearing.

Here are a few self-care tips to help navigate exam time without getting overwhelmed:

  • When new to self-care, it’s helpful to make a list of all of the things that calm you down and/or make you feel better. Everyone is different in terms of what works for them – taking a bath, listening to calming music, journaling. All three at the same time. Going for a run first thing in the morning. Meditation. Head-banging in your bedroom to Metallica – whatever gets you through.
  • Once you’ve identified a few things that make you feel calmer, carve out some time every day to put those activities into practice. During exam time there’s no surplus of time for calming activities – to suggest that would be infuriating – but it’s amazing what five minutes of self-care can do to a person’s overall productivity. Start by selecting a time of the day that you tend to feel most at ease, and then decide on an amount of time for the self-care activity. Choose a time that makes sense for your schedule, from a few minutes to an hour, and make sure you follow through when the time comes.
  • Try to give self-care as much attention as you would an exam cram-session if, by chance, you’re faced with cramming this term. The more attention you put into self-care, the more you’ll take from it.

There are also a myriad of resources on-campus for those experiencing stress and/or anxiety. When stress becomes severe, it’s important to reach out to support networks and also to campus counselling and health and wellness centres.

Educators and administrators can consult COU’s accessibility resource page for tips on best practices in helping students maintain good mental health, and resources to make the classroom (and exam room) an accessible space for all students.

For the students out there, best of luck with those exams! You’re close to the finish line. Remember to breathe.