Top 5 tips for handling stress

We caught up with Stirling University’s very own stress expert Dr. Vivien Swanson for 5 simple tips on how to deal with stress

Exam season Exams stirling university Stress Stress week top 5 tips Vivien Swanson

Exam season sucks. It’s that time of the year when your workload is at its highest and your bank account is at its lowest. It’s also that time of the year when all these ‘stress-coping’ articles come out.

These over-complicated articles usually look something like “20 steps to reducing your stress”, and leave you thinking that the best answer is to jump from the top of those steps, rather than listening to the lengthy advice.

This year however, with exam season just around the corner, The Tab caught up with Stirling University’s very own stress expert Dr. Vivien Swanson for 5 simple tips on how to deal with stress.

It’s not all about camping out in the library

Make a plan

This is all about feeling in control, often we feel stressed because we feel like we’ve lost control. The weeks ahead feel like a huge task, and there’s a tendency to panic because you feel like you’re drowning in work.

You can feel more in control by making a revision plan that maps out what you are going to do on a day to day basis. This breaks things down into manageable chunks, which you can tick off as you go along. This gives you a sense of control and is rewarding. You can also add in rewards for when you achieve your goals at the end of the week.

You should aim to make your plan more ambitious than this

Stick to the plan

There are lots of reasons why we don’t stick to plans- friends might ask you to do things, other work may get in the way, or you may feel tired and run down.  If you have a bad day- don’t beat yourself up about it, but don’t let yourself off the hook either.

Go back to your plan the next day and pick up where you left off.  Make it easier for yourself to follow the plan by removing distractions from your environment. And remember to build in rewards for when you do stick to your plan (something that feels good!).

It can be easier to stick to the plan if you drag in friends to help you

Don’t panic

We are probably all familiar with the ‘headless chicken’ feeling. There’s so much to do and so little time to do it in, so we do a bit here and there and don’t think we have achieved anything. Often panicking is based on catastrophic thinking (e.g. “I’ll never get this finished”, “I’m going to fail”)

You can challenge this by using your plan to be realistic about how much you have done. Write down some positive statements that challenge your catastrophic thinking (e.g. “realistically, the chances of me failing are very low”, “I’ve made it this far”).

The physical symptoms of stress such as fast breathing, muscle tension, and sweating are linked with feeling panicky.  Concentration can be difficult with these symptoms, so its important to be able to control them.  One of the best ways to do this is to use relaxation.

A bit of stress is good, just don't let it turn into panic

A bit of stress is good, just don’t let it turn into panic

Use relaxation

Feeling calm and relaxed is the opposite of feeling stressed. If you find yourself in a panic, take some time out and use relaxation techniques to feel calmer.  These can include deep breathing, muscle relaxation, using imagery and other techniques like meditation.

Music is also an effective relaxant, combining classical music with other techniques such as deep breathing and imagery can help you control your panicking.

There are also loads of relaxation resources on the internet- including youtube and relaxation apps. Take some time out to find one that suits you, and then use it as often as you need to.

Remember to take a break from the study room from time to time

Remember to take a break from the study room from time to time

Look after yourself

The more physically and mentally fit you feel, the better you will cope with exam stress. It’s very tempting to load yourself up with coffee, cigarettes, and an alcohol binge, but it’s not the best thing for your brain!  Without sounding too much like your mum… some good advice is below:

  • Get lots of sleep
  • Spend some time outside – exercising is best – but any fresh air has lots more oxygen
  • Eat nutritious food – lots of fish is good
  • Give yourself regular breaks and do something different

Fresh air and excercise can help you concentrate better

If you need any more information about stress and how to cope with exams then visit: www.stepsforstress.org.