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How can mindfulness meditation help your exam stress?

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Marcea Eckhardt, High School and University Counsellor at ACS Hillingdon International School, shares her mindful tips for combatting exam stress.

When your body detects stress, a small region in the base of the brain called the hypothalamus reacts by stimulating the body to produce hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones help you deal with any threats or pressure you are facing, known as the ‘fight or flight’ response. 

Everyone needs a certain amount of ‘stress’ or pressure to live well, it’s what gets you out of bed in the morning and motivates you throughout the day. However, stress becomes problematic when there’s too much and during the exam season levels can be heightened, leading to increased anxiety.

Overwhelmingly, 96 per cent of students who completed the Childline National Exam Stress survey revealed that they felt anxious about their exams and revision and over half of 1,300 participants said they experienced pressure from their parents to do well. Alarmingly, six in ten claimed they had never received any support with dealing with exams.

Mindfulness training can be essential for helping to combat exam anxiety. Through simple breathing exercises and meditation, mindfulness training can give you the tools to remain calm, sustain your attention and stay focused – all essential exam skills.

Why mindfulness?

As part of ACS Hillingdon’s Wellness Week, our students spent ten minutes every day practicing a guided meditation in class. Mindfulness is sometimes perceived as‘new age mumbo jumbo’, however, over the course of the week, ACS teachers witnessed calmer classes whilst students claimed to be re-focused and less stressed.

Neuroscientists have found that long-term mindfulness practice alters the structure and function of the brain to improve the quality of both thought and feeling. Studies show that mindfulness meditation is anything but ‘mumbo jumbo’, with students practicing mindfulness benefiting from improved cognitive functioning. 

According to a Mindful Schools study, 83 per cent of teachers saw improved levels of focus amongst students who had undertaken mindfulness training; while 89 per cent also saw better emotional regulation; 76 per cent more student compassion; and 79 per cent increased engagement in the classroom.

Mindfulness tips for exam anxiety:

Here aresix straightforward tips, rooted in mindfulness, that you can use to help combat exam anxiety:

 

·         It might feel a bit alien to begin with, but guided meditations will help you concentrate on your senses and breathing, clearing headspace and regulating your emotions. I’ve curated a Youtube playlist, which we used during ACS Hillingdon’s Wellness Week, and includes five popular ten minute meditations.

 

·         Breathing exercises, such as the ‘Five Senses Drill’, are effective for immediate refocusing. The ‘Five Senses Drill’ refers to a simple exercise; after two deep breaths, meditators silently note three things they see, hear, feel and note what they smell and taste, before finishing the exercise with two more deep breaths.

 

·         Sleep is so important during the exam season and sleep deprivation can compound anxiety.  Make sure that your phone is notkept on your bedside table overnight, this will make sure you are not woken by notifications and help you resist the urge to reply to messages throughout the night.

 

·         Revision is a common form of tension which can be tackled by devising a ‘chunkable’ revision schedule. Prioritise your weakest subject areas and use this as the basis for a revision timetable. You’ll feel more in control of your own learning with a well thought-out plan.

 

·         Creative meditation can also lower anxiety levels. Colouring intricate patterns creates a sense of rhythm which the brain craves and you will build confidence by slowly completing the designated pattern.

 

·         One of my students recently recommended a specialist app, ‘Stop, Breathe & Think, which generates individual meditations and is available on desktops, iOS and Android devices. If you feel anxious you can add in your mental, physical and emotional states into the app which will curate personalised meditations based on your results.  This tool helps to fit in a last minute meditative moments before sitting an exam and builds mindfulness into your daily routines.

 

Practicing mindfulness will help you develop crucial tools to deal with the pressures of life – exams included, but beyond that too. It’s empowering, and once you know how to do it, you can draw on it whenever you need to.

 

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