As spring is now in full force, the exam period is coming up for many young adults. Stress, either positive or harmful, is an inevitable companion of this season of life. At VivaLing, we are also specialists in exam preparation. A special program for our learners is, by the way, in the making and we have gathered here a battery of tips to help you deal with the infamous exam pressure.
Fiona is an English Coach at VivaLing. Additionally, she is also responsible for the Staff’s wellness program called VivaLing Living. Outside of her English coaching ability, she has 20 years experience as a holistic coach and she is spreading her wisdom and care through monthly challenges and video tutorials to help our coaches deal with their daily schedule and life hiccups.
Today she shares her expertise on stress – the good, the bad, how to optimize it and how to recognize how it helps or how it handicaps us.
What is stress on a hormonal level?
The stress response begins in the brain. When someone experiences a stressful event, the amygdala sends a distress signal to the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus then activates the sympathetic nervous system by sending signals through the autonomic nerves to the adrenal glands.
Fiona reminds us that stress is above all a mind-triggered state:
The body responds by pumping the hormone adrenaline into the bloodstream, which then brings on a number of physiological changes. The heart beats faster than normal, pushing blood to the muscles, heart, and other vital organs. This hormone travels to the adrenal glands, prompting them to release cortisol, also known as the stress hormone.
Stress is part of our human experience.
Stress is a normal human reaction that happens to everyone. In fact, the human body is designed to experience stress and react to it. When you experience changes or challenges (stressors), your body produces physical and mental responses. That’s stress.
Is cortisol that bad?
You may have noticed that cortisol is a bit of a buzzword, especially as more and more people are trying to understand its role in stress and the potential health problems that come along with it. It’s often seen as a “bad” hormone, one that you want none of — but that’s not entirely fair.
Cortisol can both serve and hurt us.
Stress responses help your body adjust to new situations. Stress can be positive, keeping us alert, motivated and ready to avoid danger. For example, if you have an important test coming up, a stress response might help your body work harder and stay awake longer.
Positive stress is called eustress, and it helps!
Especially during an exam prep period, she adds. Setting challenging goals around your interests or passions is another example of eustress. As humans, we have an innate ability to learn. Learning new things can be challenging. And growing expertise in an area doesn’t happen in a straight line.
We typically experience a learning stage where you may be absolutely terrible, but you’re learning from those mistakes. As you start seeing small wins and continue to build self-efficacy, you’re motivated to continue learning and improving.
Keeping the balance is the real challenge
Stress can be positive, keeping us alert, motivated and ready to avoid danger. But stress becomes a problem when stressors continue without relief or periods of relaxation.
Cortisol, as we can see, is more than a ‘stress’ hormone. The trouble occurs when we’re not in active fight-or-flight mode and cortisol production is still rampant. This constant cortisol release can happen when we’re always working too hard, or feeling generally overwhelmed. It’s especially rampant if we have no way of managing our stress.
If any of the following symptoms show up, you may be experiencing too much stress: nightmares, recurrent thoughts, feeling overwhelmed and oversaturated, having crying fits, feeling irritable and argumentative, experiencing panic attacks, dealing with skin problems and mysterious rashes.
It is time to act!
Talk to someone you trust and seek help. And if you haven’t reached this stage yet, you can keep in mind these simple tips from Fiona and our Learning Team to stay in control and change that negative stress into a positive.
How do we keep a friendly level of stress in our life?
Everything is a matter of balance in life. By making place for these healthy habits shared by Fiona and our team during your exam preparation period all will be well!
Visualize success and focus on reality
One of the best ways to deal with stress, entirely created by our brain, is to shift to the positive side of our thoughts. Instead of fearing failure, imagine success. What if you are going to be successful and you believe in it? And if the shift is really too challenging, what about checking your current stress against past reality? I always studied hard for every exam but at the end of day I also thought to myself, “What’s the worst that can happen?” I know it sucks if I have to rewrite an exam, but it made me feel calmer to think this way, says Sharon, English coach.
Listen to music to distract you from the stress…
… take a walk in nature or just bare feet on soil to get grounded. Especially when the exam is coming close. I remember that I never used to study the night prior to (or the morning prior to) the exam. If I hadn’t learned it by then, then I would only stress myself out. Better to relax and go in without the stress and only the nerves! confirms Felicity, Head of Talent Development.
Practice progressive muscle relaxation, guided meditation and all types of breathing techniques (pranayama)
Yoga comes in handy in an exam period. Fiona, yoga teacher, concurs with the benefits of activities like these to keep stress in sight during these challenging times, and generally balance stress in daily life.
Hug someone to release oxytocin, which calms blood pressure…
… make space for fun and entertaining activities between your exam revision. Turn this exam prep period into a fun and positive experience. I alternate between studying and doing mental breaks–playing games, watching short fun videos. That would be 30-40 mins of study then 10-15 mins of mental break. confides Ren, English coach.
Plan and manage your schedule, finally, are unanimously recognized as a real asset
“I used to get anxious the days prior to a test or exam, but on the day itself I was calm and confident, in part because I prepared in advance,” confesses Mary, Spanish Coach. I am currently writing exams, and one way that I manage my stress is to plan (far) ahead and to manage my preparation time. This ensures that I have enough time to prepare and decreases my stress, agrees Doritha, English Coach.
Stress is the best companion in learning if kept in check
Body signs and symptoms are the most relevant information to watch for, and give us a clue on whether we are working with stress or under it.
Visualize your success, allow yourself fun breaks, take deep breaths and make it a life-changing experience for yourself first, for the best!