Friendships and Exam Stress - Counselling Newsletter

Friendships and Exam Stress - Counselling Newsletter

Published: 31 October 2017

Exam time can equal freak-out time. Tension’s running high, there’s lots of pressure, school can be competitive and friendships can get a little feral. Friends can be a great source of support during exam time, but they can also distract you from studying. They may even add to your stress levels if they’re not handling their own exam preparation well. Here’s how you can keep your friendships positive, even when it’s stress city.

Here are 4 tips to keep things positive:

1. Figure out what works for you. Everyone learns and studies differently. Do you learn best from discussing ideas? From teaching others? Reading notes? Listening to lectures? If you learn best from teaching others, find some friends who prefer to learn the same way as you and start a study group with them. This is more likely to be a positive, productive study method for you than one where you don’t have to contribute in an active way.

2. Take a break from friends if you're all getting stressed. Take notice of how you and your friends are speaking to each other and what you’re talking about. For example, a young person we spoke to said, “All my friends were getting stressed. When one gets stressed, we all generally get stressed.” This is called stress contagion. While social media group chats can be awesome for learning, they can also be a huge distraction. Group chats can create stress contagion if everyone is talking about studying but not actually doing anything. If you think stress contagion might be happening, say something about it and agree to spend a certain part of the day not talking about exams or study. If this doesn’t work, don’t be afraid to take a break from that person or those people – do your own thing, or hang out with other people for a day or two.

3. Support those friends who support you. The best thing friends can do is support each other. Many young people report that friends help calm them down when they’re feeling anxious or stressed. If someone is being a big support to you, such as by helping you with a particular course, ask how you can assist them in return. It could be by helping them with a different subject, by reading and commenting on an essay they’ve written, or even by doing something fun together – such as going for a walk – to take a break.

4. Try to stay in your own lane. Learning environments can be tough and it’s easy to compare yourself with your friends. Try to think about what your own personal strengths are, and focus on your own performance. Keep a chart at the back of your diary with the marks you get for each subject and assignment. Aim to beat your own personal best every time you sit an exam, instead of comparing yourself to anyone else.

Other strategies to manage exam stress;

HabitBull is a motivational app which allows you to track and input good habits such as the number of hours you’ve studied. It then gives you a score based on how well you’re keeping up with goals and routines. Measuring your progress in this way can be motivating and helps remind you how much you’ve done, not just how much more there is to do. The app is also good for noticing patterns in your behaviour. For example, there may be specific days when you’re more alert than others, or perhaps you tend to study better on the weekends rather than at night.

Practise self-care. When anything tough is going on, it’s important to take care of yourself, because that can be when we’re most vulnerable. Take time out to socialise and to do things you enjoy; eat healthily, take some exercise and get enough sleep. The right amount of sleep can help us remember the material we are trying to learn. And don’t forget to practise relaxation techniques, slow breathing and mindfulness if you’re feeling stressed. Such techniques work better when they are practiced regularly, just like any skill.

Reach out to family and other supports. If you feel like your friends are stressing you out or you’re not sure what to do about a situation with a friend, reach out to others in your support system; they might have had similar experiences and may be able to help you talk it out. Remember that you can also reach out to counsellors, your favourite lecturer, a mentor, tutor, or your extended family and friends.

Extract from Reach Out: