Well, that flew didn’t it??!
So, the exams are over and you’re thinking “Yay! Stress? Nah – done, distant memory, ‘be grand now!”
And it is done for some, but for others a new and unexpected stress has already kicked in. It’s a little trickier than pre-exam stress, because the people around you might assume all students are now the embodiment of Zen and relaxation, because technically the exams are over.
So you might feel a little less inclined to talk about it because at some level you believe you should be calm now. And thinking we should be OK is a great way to silence ourselves when we’re absolutely not OK.
But it’s fine, really. Post-exam stress is absolutely normal, albeit unpleasant.
Let’s look at how to deal with it with some ‘Do and Don’t’ suggestions:
1: Don’t discuss the paper with your friends: Tempting as this might be, it’s not helpful. You will likely discover that people answered differently to you, and because you are in a ‘stress-y’ place, you might assume that their answer is better. This probably won’t feel helpful.
2: Don’t discuss the paper with strangers online or with your teacher: You run the risk of being offered (un)helpful feedback about what you could have done differently and again will leave you feeling more anxious. This is particularly true of strangers online. And to be fair – remember that it is most unlikely anyone intends to add to your anxiety – they will most likely believe they are being helpful.
3: Don’t lose faith in your abilities: You may have realised that you made an error (or several) in your papers. Learning to give yourself permission to make mistakes is a tough one – I’m still learning!! Taking out the mental baseball bat in your head and beating yourself with it won’t change the result. Instead, imagine what you would say to your best friend in this situation – would you give out? call him stupid? You deserve the same compassion. Talk to yourself the way you would to your friend, be comforting and reassuring.
4: Don’t count down to results day. We humans don’t normally experience waiting as soothing. We have no control over time, and waiting and clock watching serves only to remind us of this. But here’s something you can control – would you like to make nice memories between now and then? Free yourself. If you allow yourself to relax it won’t affect your results. If you don’t allow yourself to relax same deal – but you don’t get the fun either! #truth
5: Don’t mentally rehearse dramatic catastrophic situations.
These are the ones where you end up destitute and without that college place/ your parents’ approval/ work / happiness. We tend to imagine the worst and then assume it will happen without considering possible good outcomes, or solutions to potentially bad ones.
You’ll still do it of course, imagine disaster – but when you do, see if you can catch it and replace the thoughts with a nicer fantasy (like getting that course, what adventures you might have in the future, what new friends you might make, where you might live…). We are often unaware of how much control we can exercise over where our thoughts bring us!
Which brings us nicely to the list of do’s:
1: Do allow yourself to think about bad outcomes and then follow up with a solution plan. So instead of simply ruminating about your life might be ruined, think, OK, if I don’t get my points, what will I do? What are my options? How will I best ensure that I still get what I want?
2: Do keep talking: If you are stressed tell someone – a parent, a trusted grounded friend, a therapist. Choose someone who won’t buy into negativity easily and who has proven that they have your best interests at heart. Allow yourself to be anxious without judging yourself. You are not a freak. Allow yourself to seek advice around your back up plan.
3: Do remain realistic: If you are not in the habit of getting A1s in physics, then it is less likely that you will have achieved an A1 in these exams. You wouldn’t put your friend under that kind of pressure, would you? Again yes, I am talking about being kind(er) to yourself.
4: Do keep moving: It seems such a cliché but it is true that exercise works well to alleviate anxiety. You might think you’re too tired from stress to take that walk but believe me, your energy will magically reappear once you get out there! I’m not making it up – science agrees!
5: Do keep eating and looking after your body – starving yourself for a beach body for that holiday is not a priority (nor is it necessary / healthy etc etc!!) and as I said before, you already have a beach body 🙂
6: Do get sleep. Allow yourself to rest, you’ve been through a great deal and you now deserve to sit back and have some down time.
It might take your body time to wind down, you’ve been working at peak level for a few weeks, maybe even months. Relaxing will feel alien at the start, give yourself time. This is normal.
7: Do things that are fun. Fun is one of our basic needs and one we often neglect, especially in times of stress. Maybe make a list of fun things for you to do over the summer and make a choice to enjoy them. Yes – a choice – because so many things are choices but we don’t really realise that – y’know?
I heartily congratulate you on finishing and hope that you mind your lovely heads over the next while. After all – that’s the only part you can really control right now!