Exam season is always high-pressured; it’s am amalgamation of all of the things we’ve learned and the expectation that we’ll perform at our best. When we add depression to the mix, with its energy-sapping, memory-reducing, concentration-lapsing, and motivation-sucking ways, then it’s easy to see how exam season can become a source of substantial worry, anxiety and stress.
It’s more important than ever, that we take good care of ourselves. If we stop taking care of ourselves, it can make revision and essay-writing even harder. Self-care might seem like a waste of time, but it’s vital for getting through exam season without burning out.
Sleep problems are common with depression. Sometimes we need a huge amount of sleep, at other times, we find ourselves trapped in a cycle of insomnia.
During exam season it’s tempting to spend more time revising and less time sleeping. The problem is, sleep deprivation and attempting to work are a poor combination. Sleeping is an important part of revision.
As part of sleeping well, we need to allow ourselves enough time to wind down before bed. Otherwise when we try and sleep, our heads will be buzzing with the work we’ve been trying to absorb during the day. We need to our books, turn off our laptop, leave our desk, and chill out for at least an hour before we plan on going to bed.
Our brains don’t work so well if they’re hungry, or deprived of nutrients. What we eat can also impact our mood.
When revising, we often feel like we don’t have time to eat properly. Cooking can seem like a waste of time. If we find cooking stressful, we could batch cook before our revision period begins. If we do want to cook, we could rely on food that are faster to prepare, like tins of soup, jacket potatoes or couscous. It can also help to have a well-stocked supply of healthier snacks.
We don’t need to deprive ourselves of anything. We don’t need to spend an hour or so cooking each day. We just need to try and make sure that we’re eating regularly, and that what we eat is balanced.
It’s easy to forget to drink when we’re buried under work. And there’s a temptation too, to top-up on caffeine to boost our energy and focus. The trouble with caffeine, is that it often disrupts sleep too, so we find ourselves in a vicious cycle of not sleeping but needing a boost to get us through the day.
Set reminders, or build reminders into your revision plans, to drink regularly. Dehydration can slow our brains down, make us feel sluggish, and make it hard to think – making everything feel much harder than it need be.
Depression can often stop us from feeling able to go outside. Exam season can make this worse because it chains us to our desk. Fresh air can help to clear our minds, and rejuvenate us. If we’re up to going outside, taking the odd walk around the block can help to get our blood flowing. If we don’t feel up to going outside, we could open a window and air out our room.
Time Off Is Vital
Nobody can work 24/7. We’re allowed time off from revision. In fact, it’s really important that we do take some time away from our desks.
If we skip breaks, say no to leaving the house, and cancel anything remotely ‘fun’, we’ll find ourselves burning out. Over-working can ramp up our stress levels. When we’re stressed, we take in less information, and struggle to write essays because we’re so stressed. As counter-intuitive as it might be, taking some time off can improve our revision, and any work we produce.
Although it can be hard to look towards the future when we’re feeling low, planning can be a useful tool to use. Some of us like to plan a month at a time – listing what we’re going to study on which day. Others prefer to scribble a plan for the next day on a post-it before we go to bed, or each morning. We need to incorporate breaks and time for food, into our plan, as well as stopping for the day at a reasonable time.
If possible, we also need to try and be flexible with our plan. We could plan to revise a whole module one afternoon. But when we come to do it, it could be a module that we find particularly difficult. It might get to 6pm and we find we’re not even halfway through it. Cramming until the early hours of the morning would interfere with the next day’s plans because we’d be too tired to work properly. It’s better to stop at a reasonable time and finish the module another day.
Use The Help Available
During exam season, there are drop-in sessions or revision sessions available. These can be helpful to go to, especially if we’re struggling.
If we’re comfortable doing so, we can declare depression as a disability to our school/college/university. This can sometimes give us certain allowances with exams. For example, we might be able to sit our exams in a separate room to our peers, which could ease some stress. Sometimes we need to do this a while before exams – it’s worth checking with a staff member we trust.
It’s also good to remember that there are always people we can reach out to if we need to. Friends and family, health professionals, and helplines are all good people to talk to if we need to.
Try To Avoid Isolation
Depression loves isolation. Exam season makes it more acceptable to lock ourselves away. It can become incredibly easy to isolate ourselves.
Unfortunately, never interacting with anyone can make us feel worse. We don’t get a break from ourselves. If we’re struggling and don’t reach out to anyone, our thoughts can spiral.
We need to try and keep in touch with the outside world. We could use social media. We might like to meet a friend for a revision session. We could have dinner with our family one day. Whatever it is, we need to try and stay in contact with others.
Put Completed Work Behind You
After we’ve done an exam, or handed a piece of work in, there is nothing we can do about it. We can’t edit it. We can’t go back and answer the question we remembered the answer to five minutes after the exam. We need to try and turn our backs on what we’ve done, and look ahead at what we’ve got to do next. Stressing about finished work will impact the next piece of work or revision we’re doing. It will distract us and prevent us from, focusing on what we’re doing.
Get Things Out The Night Before
It’s something we’ve been told to do since we first started school. Getting things out the night before can save so much stress. Exams often require things that we haven’t had to find in a few months. Student ID, multiple sharpened pencils, a black pen… the list goes on. Getting things out the night before means we won’t lose sleep over them, or be panicking before our exam.
Be Kind To Yourself
Exam period can be stressful. Depression can make things worse. We can choose self-kindness over giving ourselves a hard time. We can remind ourselves that grades do not prove our worth, it’s who we are as people that matters the most in life. We can do our best given our circumstances, nobody can ask more than that.
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