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Category ArchiveFood

Dealing with Exam Stress and Anxiety

Lots of people suffer with exam stress and anxiety but here are a few ways you can help prepare yourself for exam season. If you are in the midst of university finals, GCSE and A-Level exams, or if your children are preparing for the 11+ exams, there are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. Time out – Whilst studying is important, it is even more important to keep a healthy work-life balance. What this means is making sure you take time out of your week to do things you enjoy, such as sport, music, relaxation and watching your favourite shows. Particularly the night before an exam, you do not want to be studying, but making sure your bag is packed for the day and that you are sure you have everything you need, and then do something enjoyable, before getting an early night.
  2. A healthy diet and lifestyle – making sure you drink plenty of water and eat plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables and that you get enough protein, is important for your exam-ready brain. Often when we are stressed, our bodies crave sugar, caffeine or alcohol. Whilst we feel our bodies want these, it is actually the sensation that it provides for our bodies that we crave – the energy boost or the feeling of relaxation. Instead make sure you fuel your body with foods that will benefit you, and drink plenty of water.
  3. Aromatherapy – Many will agree that lavender essential oil can be relaxing, but some say rosemary helps with concentration and memory, too. I know many people who have taken a cotton handkerchief with them to an exam that they have previously dabbed lavender and rosemary oil on to keep them calm. Either way, make sure avoid essential oils if you are asthmatic or pregnant and check with your doctor if you are concerned.
  4. Breathing exercises and meditation – apps like Headspace which teaches meditation, and apps or Youtube videos of nature sounds (rainfall sounds, ocean waves, etc) can be calming and allow you time out from your daily life. Giving yourself just 5-10 minutes a day can be very beneficial to your health.
  5. Exercise – exercise is extremely important for realising the feel-good hormones that relieve stress and improve your mood. Exercise has been proven to help combat depression and anxiety and recent research has found that exercise that involves being immersed in nature has an even bigger effect. So hiking, camping, beach walks, digging over the allotment, gardening, visiting botanical gardens and other outdoor fitness activities such as running can greatly improve your mental health. Remember to always check with your doctor that the exercise you do is suitable for your physical health.
  6. Sleep – Making sure you are well rested and have plenty of down-time before bed is essential. The blue light from our computer, TV and smartphone screens sends a signal to the body that tells us to be awake. So apps like f.lux or Twillight can help dim your screens and get you ready for bed. Try to avoid watching anything too exciting, scary or mysterious before bed so you won’t be wondering as you try to sleep who the killer is in your latest crime drama! Try taking a hot bath, reading before bed and make sure you have a light snack, such as a banana or some toast, and a small glass of water before bed to avoid hunger and dehydration.
  7. Be prepared – Don’t stay up late the night before an exam. Be sure to start your revision with plenty of time (weeks or even months before your exam) and stop the day before at no later than 5pm. Have a nice dinner and do something relaxing and enjoyable with friends or family in the evening, pack your bag and make sure you get an early night.

 

Good luck and please feel free to get in touch if you feel you would benefit from tutoring or coaching by emailing me: hello@bexharper.com

 

 

N.B. Whilst I am an experienced tutor, teacher and coach, I am not a therapist, counsellor or mental health professional. If you are concerned about your mental health, always speak to your doctor, or if you are having suicidal thoughts, please contact a suicide helpline.

How to quit caffeine in just 7 days

Ever tried to give up tea and coffee? If so, you might have suffered from the awful headaches and not really known that these were linked to caffeine withdrawal. Yes there are symptoms! When I gave up caffeine in 2012, I’d been off the caffeine for around 52 hours (not that I was counting…) and had those dreaded headaches! But in a couple of days they were gone and I got on with my life, caffeine-free…

 

Why would you want to give up caffeine?

Well, most of you will know it is a stimulant and its effect only temporary, so you get a quick boost before feeling worse than ever. Before I gave it up, I hated the feeling that I was so reliant on tea and coffee to function. Does that feeling when you wake up in the morning and you can’t even see because you feel so tired sound familiar? (And yes, I was wearing my glasses!) Plus there is some evidence to suggest it disturbs sleep (especially if drank late afternoon onward) and has a diuretic effect (you are then likely to get more dehydrated), so it is best to avoid if you have problems with your waterworks! You are way better off with water or a healthy smoothie.


So, how did I quit?

Good question! I was on at least one cup of coffee a day and between one and three cups of tea, so probably your average subject.

DAY 1: If you are an excessive tea or coffee drinker (or both!) then get your intake down to just 4 cups in total.  I was already on 4 cups, so I just made sure I cut one cup out.

DAY 2: I got my caffeine intake down to 3 cups in total.

Day 3: I got my caffeine intake down to 2 cups in total.

DAY 4: I gave up the coffee totally – it started off being a treat to go to coffee shops and then became a daily habit. And an expensive one at that! So I also saved some money! If you can’t live without coffee you can try decaff coffee or, even better, No Cafwhich is totally caffeine-free and organic.

DAY 5: I went down to drinking black tea or coffee only with my breakfast. Anything after that I made sure it was decaff coffee or herbal tea, such as peppermint or lemon and ginger, (but not green tea as that has caffeine in).

DAY 6:  I switched my morning cup of tea for a rooibos tea. Rooibos is actually really nice (I was pleasantly surprised) and can be drank with milk or honey. Often known as Redbush, it is available in most supermarkets. You can try decaff black tea but I found it gross and decided I’d have been back on the caffeine habit in no time if it hadn’t been for Redbush! Plus, the processes they use to decaffeinate coffee and tea is not particular good for you either, so it is better to choose something naturally caffeine-free. If you feel you can’t manage this just yet, you could switch from black tea to green tea, which has properties that scientists believe can improve your health. ,

DAY 7: I was now caffeine-free – just had to keep it up!! When I came off the black tea, I was armed with some paracetamol to get me through the first few days (Days 7-10) of a head-achey caffeine-free life!

 

What about relapses?

I did have a relapse when I handed in my PhD, as I was working 19 hour days to finish my thesis edits alongside a full-time job and drinking 4 cups of strong coffee a day seemed the only way I would manage this. The effects were not good, however, because I had gone from living very healthily to not overnight. It did have a knock-on effect, in that I feel awful for several months but I made the wise decision to quit again but in a less rigid way.

 

But what about if you are visiting friends or family?

An excellent question. One of the main reasons people choose not to pursue an alternative lifestyle choice is because they don’t want to feel awkward or inconvenient to others. If this worries you, you can do a number of things:

  1. Always carry a spare decaff teabag / instant coffee sachet in your bag for emergencies.
  2. Drink water instead (oh extra bonus points, eh!?)
  3. Have an exception to the rule, that you will only have caffeine if you can’t get decaf!
  4. To easy people into this change, take a box of your favourite rooibos and say you have discovered something really tasty and want to share it with your loved ones.
  5. Leave your own supplies at your boyfriend’s/girfriend’s/ parent’s place, once they know you are quitting for good.

Voila, a recovering caffeine-o-holic has made it through five years already! Good luck if you decide to quit! Any questions, please contact me or leave a comment!