If you’re anything like me, exam season is a massive puddle of tears, stress, and leaving everything to the last minute. It also contributes to a huge downwards spiral in my mental health, which I always neglect because studying for and passing my exams are “more important” … which is a bunch of bullshit, but every semester, this is the stance I take and end up having a bit of a breakdown as a result. This is why I want to talk to you about looking after yourself during exams.
This semester, I’m trying to look after myself more while I study, instead of leaving it until after my exams are over. This post is more of a reflection on what I do wrong, and what I can do better to look after my physical and mental health, but I also hope that it may help some of you guys, too.
Shower every day, and take a bath once a week
I know this seems like something we should do all the time, but (and don’t judge me) I do slack in this department when I’m studying. It seems that every day doesn’t have enough hours in it, and so I have to replace necessities with studying. Again, this is 100% wrong, and I know it is, but I fall into this routine regardless.
Making an effort to get out of your books and take a quick shower every day, even if you don’t wash your hair – morning, afternoon for a mental freshen up, or at night, it doesn’t matter – is not only good for obvious reasons, but for me, it helps clear my head. When I’m stuck and frustrated on a tutorial, taking a five minute break to shower and clear my mind does wonders for helping me relax, and take a look at the problem with a different mindset later on.
I also feel that setting aside an hour, rather than just 10 minutes, to have a bath once a week is beneficial for me, too. I have that time set aside to properly pamper and look after myself, and relax from all the stresses of exams. Looking after your mental health is so important, and even if you think you can’t afford a break, you can and should take them.
Remembering to eat properly / at the right times
Again, this seems so basic it should go without saying, but this is also something I forget to do. I can go way past breakfast and lunch before I realise I haven’t even eaten a meal that day – not only is this really bad for you, but the studying you do won’t be your best, as you are not performing to your normal standards. I get so tired and cranky, and therefore I don’t study efficiently with my time.
I also binge a lot once I do realise I’m hungry. This is something that I probably won’t stop as sometimes I just need some biscuits and something sugary to keep me going, but I need to cut down on it and eat proper meals instead. Or even snack on something healthier!
Make use of your university counselling services
This may not be the case for everyone, but most universities have a free student counselling service, and they more often than not have allocated drop-in hours every day. I personally have pre-booked appointments, but I do know that if I need to speak to someone urgently, I can use the drop-in service between appointments.
My experience with myself and my friends leads me to believe that exams can give a real bashing to most students’ mental health, which is particularly difficult if you already have mental health issues you are dealing with. Please speak to someone (either a counselling service or a space like Breathing Space or the Big White Wall*) and make use of the services you have available to you.
Your mental health is so important, please don’t ignore it during exams!
* The Big White Wall is an online space if you don’t like the idea of phoning a helpline, it is mainly users that will talk to you and share problems with you and help you, but there are also counsellors online monitoring the conversations, too. I haven’t personally used it so I don’t have any more information on it, but I was recommended it by my counsellor, and I will most likely use it in the future.
This one is so important! You might feel, like I’ve said before, that there is not enough hours in the days leading up to your exam to study, and therefore you can’t afford to take any breaks. However, if you don’t take regular breaks and give yourself some breathing space, you will not work efficiently when you are studying.
You will take longer to grasp something, you will feel more depressed and/or stressed, you will be more tired and less focused than if you had taken a break – and therefore the work will take you longer. You’re not losing out on time by taking a break. In fact, you are making things more difficult for yourself in the long run. (By you, I don’t mean you personally, but this is my personal experience with it, and with watching people close to me.)
Maybe you can’t relate to these tips – as I said, they are more a reminder for me on how to look after myself, but whether you do or you don’t, please look after yourself this exam time!
Good luck, everyone!