Exam time and deadline season can be a very stressful time even without current global issues adding to feelings of anxiety. A 2018 UK survey of student mental health found that 42.8% of students feel worried ‘often’ or ‘always’ and 88.7% of students struggle with feeling anxious. I would expect these figures would be even higher near exam time.
The sheer level of material that is ‘thrown’ at students during one semester can really pile up and become very stressful indeed. For my personal course I had 84 lectures, 30,000 slides or over 153,000 words. Lecturers perhaps don’t realise the cumulative information that students are presented with and can it can feel like university has forgotten the fundamental goal of inspiring and supporting students’ learning.
Why do I feel overwhelmed?
Feeling overwhelmed is the result of intense emotions we feel we can’t manage. evising large amounts of material is no mean feat and can bring up high levels of emotions like stress and anxiety. Is there a feeling overwhelming you? Or are you simply mentally exhausted? Mental fatigue is a common cause of overwhelm and actually diminishes our ability to retain and recall information, which in turn can worsen academic anxiety.
What can I do about it?
- Make a revision plan:
For procrastinators or perfectionists alike, it can tackle anxious feelings about the amount of material you need to get through.
- Take revision breaks (not always easy!)
The NHS recommends a break every 45-60 minutes.This can help calm you down and increase productivity.
- Set your boundaries
If you are mentally tired or anxious, pushing yourself is not helpful. Doing things you enjoy outside of studying is essential for mental health and reduces mental fatigue.
- Manage your expectations:
Unrealistic goals can just increase our self-criticism and anxiety.
- Put it in perspective
Exams and coursework are not the end of the world. When you look back on your life it is unlikely this exam time will feature.Cherish the things that do matter to you.
- Look after yourself
Sleeping, eating well and exercising are important for our cognitive ability and can drop off when we prioritise studying. If you don’t look after yourself, you are not giving your brain the best shot at studying.
SOS overwhelm support
In a time of mental crisis, one of these anxiety combatting techniques may help:
- Mindfulness or box breathing exercise: breathe in for 4, hold for four, out for 4, hold for 4. Repeat x10.
- 5,4,3,2,1: Name 5 things you can see, 4 you can hear, 3 things you can touch, 2 things you can smell, 1 thing you can taste.
- Do something physical: Get out of your head and into your body. Exercise gives your brain a break but also can improve cognition and may even improve academic performance.
- Challenge your thoughts: Write down the thoughts on a piece of paper. How true are they?
And finally, make sure to reach out if you’re struggling. The university wellbeing team is operating remotely during this time, and can reach out to a friend or your Director of Studies / Personal Tutor, and I am always here if anyone wants to connect, just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sketches drawn by the author, Mia Melhuish