How to be a Student in January

With exams coming up and post-Christmas blues, it’s easy to fall into a negative thinking trap that can really take over your January. Given that exams require your 100%, it is important that you feel at your best – both mentally and physically. Both go hand in hand.

On the physical side, you want to make sure you are getting a good amount of sleep so that you feel refreshed and able to study. You might also want to think about whether or not you are getting a good balance of relaxation and stress (yes I said stress!). Believe it or not, a certain level of stress is required for the exam period. This is for the following reasons:

  • Boosts your brain productivity and concentration – this is because of low-level stress stimulating certain chemicals in your brain

  • It can help you become more resilient – your brain and body will learn to control stressful situations the more you are exposed to them

  • It motivates you to succeed – it is thought that if you try to view a stressful situation as a challenge (rather than overwhelming!), you may manage the situation more productively and effectively

The physical side also includes important things like doing your best to have a balanced diet, exercise in moderation or get outdoors and spend some time in nature, and drinking enough water to ensure your brain and body is fully hydrated.

I know what you’re thinking… ’Easier said than done, right?’

The simple things often tend to be the most difficult, and in this generation it seems quite normal to engage in behaviours that aren’t kind to your body and mind.

From personal experience of an eating disorder, it was always hard to ensure that I was eating enough of the right foods to provide me with the energy I needed to revise. My brain was always in turmoil; the perfectionist in me knew that I needed food to fuel my studies and get the grades I wanted but the perfectionist in me also steered me into the negative thought patterns that led to my disordered eating and compulsive exercise.

If I have learnt anything from this time, it is that food will not harm me in the way I believed it would. Food is my friend, it fuels my brain and body to work at a high level, supporting me to accomplish my dreams – don’t underestimate the importance of a balanced diet.

Moving on to the mental side of self-care during the exam season; this involves things such as positive self-talk, which sounds very weird and unnatural – because who wakes up in the morning and speaks to themselves in a kind a caring voice!? Also, other things that appear simple but definitely are not:

  • Taking some time each day to reflect on what has gone well vs. what hasn’t

  • Learning to be present/’in the moment’ and not be worrying about things that haven’t happened yet

  • Having someone to talk to – letting it out to either friends, family or support worker can really help your brain feel less overwhelmed

Below are 5 tips that might help –

  • Try and prepare in advance for the times you know you may become stressed and self-care goes out of the window – prepare meals and having some snacks to hand that you feel comfortable eating – *remember it is fuel for your brain*

  • Buy yourself a nice water bottle and make sure it is full before you leave for lessons/lectures so you know how much you’re drinking throughout the eat

  • Create a timetable that also schedules in time for reflection–yes, this might mean that you turn your phone off for 30 minutes and try and focus on the ‘present moment’ as well as taking some deep breaths in and out

  • Get outdoors, whether it’s in your garden or a local park for a walk – nature has been proven to have a calming effect on the brain and body

  • Ensure you have someone to talk to when you are feeling stressed – and not someone who you will compare workload and revision time with as this can lead to more stress!

Get the simple things right and you are nearly there.

The Nottinghamshire Local Medical Committee (GPs) have published a useful document – Exam Nerves and Anxiety – which provides some simple but effective personal well-being techniques for young people to practice in the comfort of your home in preparation of your study and exams day ahead at school, college or university.

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