Exams, unfortunately, still exist. And while I’m no expert when it comes to exams, I’m very experienced and well-versed when it comes to stress.
First thing, of course, is that sense of dread that hits you when you first realize that you have a lot to do, such as four hours worth of procrastinated studying for three different tests, or maybe something that’s not even school related. It can be terrifying at first, and make everything feel like too much. A good way to cope with this sudden sense of “too much, too fast” is a tool called grounding. It’s a distraction mechanism that slows down your brain and reminds it where the focus needs to be.
Grounding makes you aware of your surroundings. Look around wherever you are and find five things that you can see. After that, find four things you can hear, then three things you can touch, two things you can smell and one thing you can taste. It’s a coping mechanism for anxiety that can help the brain reorient when it feels that there’s too much going on.
Next, when overwhelmed, make a list of things that you need to do. Don’t make it too long, because sometimes that can be even more frustrating. A good number–on a night where sports or clubs aren’t involved–is four to ten things on your to-do list. Being able to cross all of them off and complete the whole list will allow you to feel in control of yourself and what’s going on again.
If things are still overwhelming, sometimes an old classic can help. Build up all your worry and anxiety about what’s going on, all the things that overwhelm you, and just yell into a pillow, or have a good cry. Drink water afterwards. Get it all off your chest, and then the water will help you bring yourself down after the yelling.
Sometimes, all of the stress can still get to you, and everything can feel like it’s piling up. That’s when it’s time for something I like to call an Existence Break. Take anywhere between five minutes and a half an hour to sit down, cry if you need to (meanwhile staying hydrated), play a song/video/movie/show that makes you smile, and maybe even take a bubble bath. Remind yourself that your track record for surviving stress is currently at 100%. Remind yourself (and this idea can be the hardest to process) that one bad day is not the end of all good days. Not a bad week, not a bad month, not even a bad decade means the end of all good things.
And if you can’t keep yourself positive, because it really is a struggle, just sit down with something you enjoy and rant. Rant to your friend, to your TV as it plays, to a page in your notebook, to your family, to your goldfish, anyone who won’t interrupt and will just let you scream about everything. If you need to, you can even go talk to a professional therapist or teacher. And afterwards, to steady your breathing, breathe in for four seconds, hold it for seven, and then breathe out for eight. The process will help calm your heart rate and forces your respiratory system to calm itself down. Afterwards, get something to drink (water or something hot) and just let yourself sit there, let yourself breathe and focus on things that make you smile. Take an entire break from the world, because you deserve it.