Nancy Phillips

Several people, including parents and those with various roles in academia, have spoken to me lately about the high levels of stress students are feeling in today’s world. In this short post, I want to share 10 of the most effective stress and anxiety reducing actions steps I have found to deal with exams or similar type events such as project deadlines and presentations. Many top athletes, business people, professionals and everyday heroes use some or all of these activities to feel more peace of mind, increase their productivity and live a more meaningful, less stressed life. I wish I knew these tips when I was studying for finals. I thought the more studying I did, the better marks I would get. I now understand much more about brain fatigue and worrying – and what to do about it. These positive daily habits have been an incredible help to me over the years and I hope you find them equally valuable.        

Simple Actions to Create More Peace of Mind and Less Anxiety

#1. Exercise

This one won’t be a surprise to you I’m sure, the question is, are you allowing time for it even when crunch time happens? You need to. Why? Because it allows your body to release stress and gives your mind the time it needs to process information and get into a better (natural chemical) state to effectively deal with the task at hand. Exercising isn’t hurting your studying time, it can actually help it.

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#2. Go Out In Nature

A walk outside can be the best thing to prepare your for studying or an exam, researchers at Michigan State University have proven it can enhance memory performance and attention spans by up to 20%. Getting away from the continuous distraction of technology will help you relax.

#3. Minimize Caffeine and Energy Sugar Drink Intake and Eat Healthy Food

Sugar and caffeine can quickly get you into a feeling of high anxiety due to their impact on your heart rate and the feeling of your mind speeding up. You don’t want to be fight or flight mode and ready to get chased by a bear or tiger when you’re about to sit down and try to concentrate. Real food is meant to be your fuel, and your brain uses an extremely large amount of your overall calories. Even though your brain is only 2 percent of your body’s weight, it uses 20-30 percent of the calories you consume. Feed it good stuff and you’ll notice a difference in your overall well-being. Also, be aware brain fog can be dehydration. Drink water to keep your brain functioning well, that’s what it’s predominantly made of.

#4. Meditate

This doesn’t necessarily mean sitting in the lotus position chanting (unless you want it too.) It’s really about focusing our thoughts and slowing down your brain waves so they aren’t in an anxious mode  (high beta waves) and let them move into a more relaxed, slower rate (alpha) which allows your genius to come out. I’m a lazy meditator, I lay down and close my eyes and listen to a guided meditation. It works and there’s a lot of proven benefits which you can enjoy as well. There’s a reason many of the top Fortune 100 companies are creating mindfulness courses including meditation for their employees.

#5.  Laugh

Whether it’s with a few funny friends or watching a comedy, laughter has been found to have numerous benefits on our brain and body. It increases the release of endorphins and dopamine in the brain, which provides a sense of pleasure and reward. These positive neurochemical changes also make the immune system function more effectively and there are changes in brain wave activity which enhance memory and recall. Trying to remember something difficult? Make it into a funny acronym. That’s how my gross human anatomy class (and many other anatomy classes) remembered the cranial nerves. Emotion enhances memory, I’ll bet you can think of several examples in your own life where you have highly emotional, vivid memories – this is a valuable study tip.

#6. Chunk Your Time

A very powerful scheduling tip. Break your day down into chunks of time and put your ‘to do’ list into those blocks. This allows you to physically see how you will get it all done,  then you can focus on the one thing you need to do right now. Be sure to schedule in break times for eating healthy food, exercise, and relaxation, your body, and brain need that too. Chunking down your schedule study time will help you avoid procrastination and freaking out the day before.

#7. Gratitude Journal Daily

Journaling daily is one of the most common success habits out there and there are many reasons for it. For a student, putting the things down on paper that are swirling around your mind at bedtime will help you sleep and ensure you don’t forget anything important you need to do the next day. Then list the people, experiences and things you’re grateful for in life – this will help you gain peace of mind and relax. Feeling gratitude creates the production of oxytocin, the “love” drug which makes you feel good. Oxytocin reduces activity in the fear center of your brain and helps decrease your feelings of stress.

#8. Be Kind to Others

A simple win with immediate impact. Similar to the above information, being nice to people gives you an immediate positive feeling which is definitely a “win-win” for both people involved. An interesting addition to this is that anyone who witnesses your act of kindness will also feel better.

#9. Baroque Music

This is an era of European classical music which is 50 to 80 beats per minutes and has been found to help people enhance their mental focus by slowing their brainwaves down to the alpha state of deep concentration. Learning vocabulary, memorizing facts or reading to this music has been found to be highly effective.

#10. Sleep

This is vitally important for your overall success in school and life. Sleep plays a major role in the maintenance and repair of your cells and thus of your brain and body. It also allows for your brain to process, file and store the myriads of information we take in each day. Sleep fosters memory formation and learning.  Be mindful of what you think about or “take in” the last 45 minutes before you go to bed. It’s been found that this last part of the day is processed by your brain 6x more than other information.

Bonus #1- Single Task when Studying 

Clear your immediate environment such as your desk of everything except what you are working on at that moment. Your mind doesn’t need the distraction or the feeling of worry, it needs focus. An organized workspace helps make you feel “this is all I have to do right now and I can do this.” Ringers off. Don’t multi-task when studying! Research shows it can take up to 21 minutes to refocus your attention after being interrupted.

Bonus #2- Leave Early for Your Exam and Get There Early

This way you won’t have stress hormones like cortisol speeding up your heart rate and mind right before starting the exam.

All the best with your studying!





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