Exams causing you stress? Here’s some tips from a Deakin counsellor on how to cope
We’re now midway through the exam period, so we hope you’re feeling positive. But while the academic side of things is front and centre during this time, make sure you don’t neglect your health and wellbeing.
It’s timely that exams fall during Mental Health Month, as it highlights the balancing act you need to manage. It’s easy – and totally normal – to become anxious or overwhelmed about exams, so that’s why we’ve called in the experts to help get you through!
Alison Lau is one of our exceptional student counsellors and she’s passionate about ensuring you have all the necessary support to enjoy your uni experience. We asked her some common student questions about stress, and what help and resources are available.
‘I’m feeling a bit anxious about my exams and results, but when does stress become something to worry about?’
Stress is a very human reaction to difficult situations – whether you’re a professional athlete or a student, we all need a level of performance stress to do our best. Stress indicates passion for achieving your goals.
But looking too far ahead and asking negative ‘what if’ questions can lead to worrying about worst-case scenarios. Stress manifests in physical forms – a change in appetite, constant headaches/stomach aches, muscle tension, fatigue and agitation. This kind of stress can lead to poor academic and lifestyle outcomes.
Be aware of your typical signs of stress and ask for help when they negatively impact your work, study, health or relationships. Act early.
‘I have a lot of demands placed on me – what are some simple ways I can look after my mental wellbeing?’
- Set achievable goals and reasonable expectations: Break up the day by assigning time for work, study and recuperation. Include time for sleeping (eight hours) and eating (three meals), as this provides the foundation for clear thinking, strong focus and energy.
- Prioritise: Develop a list of tasks and mark them on a calendar. This helps you visualise how much time you need to study and allows you to organise your time depending on each task’s urgency, importance and resources.
- Uni-task: While multitasking may feel more productive, it actually overwhelms your mind and increases your chances of making mistakes. Think about when you have too many browser tabs open – your brain can forget why some of them are even there. Focus on one task at a time to be your most efficient self!
- Work with yourself, not against yourself: Becoming frustrated or angry when you don’t meet your expectations or goals is a normal response, but try countering this negative self-talk. Treat yourself like you would a friend – be empathetic and understanding, and use your strengths to problem-solve!
‘I put pressure on myself to achieve high marks, and my family has high expectations of me. How can I deal with this as I wait for my results?’
Being programmed your whole life to perform well means it’s natural to aim for high marks and want to meet family expectations. But if you worry about the outcome, and avoid contact with – or even lie to – your family, ask yourself: what’s the value in investing time and energy worrying about something you can’t change? While you wait, is there anything more you can do that will improve the outcome?
If your results are disappointing, be open and honest with your family! As well as reducing your worry and guilt, this could improve how well you understand each other and lead to better support systems.
‘I feel prepared academically but suffer from horrible nerves during the exam itself – how can I stay calm and focused?’
The more you try to eliminate nerves, the stronger they get! They’re normal, so acknowledge their existence. Guard against worst-case scenarios of forgetting or failing, and bring yourself back to the here and now: the exam. Slow down thoughts with calm and even breathing, drink water if you’re sweating and breathe deeply if your heart is pounding. Then do your best!
‘When should I reach out for professional help for my mental health and what student-focused resources do you recommend?’
Just as lecturers are there to help with your academic learning, mental health professionals can provide insight and guidance for your wellbeing. It’s not weak to ask for help and don’t ever think your issues aren’t serious enough.
Deakin has some great student-focused resources:
- DeakinWELLBEING connects you to mental and physical health resources within and outside of the university.
- DUSA provides opportunities for you to connect with your Deakin community.
- Study Support and DeakinTALENT offer practical academic and career help.
Also check out the library’s special Mental Health Month collection – books that offer fresh perspectives, practical advice and centuries-old wisdom. You’ll find them on display at the entrance to each campus library location.
‘I’d like to talk to someone at Deakin who understands what it’s like to be a student. What services do you offer and how long do I have to wait for an appointment?’
Check out answers to student questions about stress and coping with exams on Ask Counselling, or ask your own anonymous question. A counsellor will post a tailored response, often including resources and ways to manage stress and other emotional difficulties.
Book a free and confidential appointment with our Counselling and Psychological Support team. Our professional psychologists and social workers are trained to help you cope with stressful situations and overcome emotional difficulties. They understand what it’s like to be a student and often support students to manage their stress. First appointments are generally available within one to two weeks.
If you’re based overseas, find out how to access local support.
If you ever feel at immediate risk, please call Triple Zero (000). Lifeline (13 11 14) is also a great 24/7 resource.