By: Benjamin Ward
Midterms are upon us, and let’s face it: we are all freaking out. We are familiar with feelings of fear, anxiety, stress, under-preparation and procrastination the night before our midterm exam. This can hamper our ability to study and keep a level head as we prepare for the big day. Testing expectations like these are often stressful and can be damaging to our overall health. Sometimes there are a lot of mixed feelings about failure, financial pressures and maybe even personal goals that all seem to hang on one test experience.
Caring for our mental health can make or break our exam outcomes, and while some thrive under pressure and time restrictions, most find themselves digging into a pit of even more negative emotions. The Preface wants to equip you with the tools necessary for succeeding within your own mind. Here are seven mental-focused, self-care health habits to implement leading up to your exams or whenever you need them.
1. Adequately prepare.
Nothing is healthier for your mental state in midterm season than adequate preparation. This has been proven to relieve feelings of angst and pressure and may completely eliminate procrastination. This process starts early in the semester by attending class and taking notes, but there is a lot of headway that can be made in two days with a proper study guide. In addition to in-class preparation, you can also seek assistance outside of class by visiting Academic Success Programs at iusb.edu/students/academic-success-programs. Adequate preparation will only help your success, but moreover your mental health.
2. Stay positive.
Believe it or not, positivity, when it comes to testing, can mean the difference between a negative experience and a…well, positive experience. The brain functions clearly and effectively when we are not drowning in negative thoughts and emotions. Practically, this means different things for different people. A few ideas on how to stay positive when you have an upcoming test (or stressful situation) might include watching a favorite show, hanging out with friends or family, praying, meditating or spending some time outside. Being conscious of negative thought patterns and nipping them in the bud, as well as keeping an intentional goal of remaining throughout the testing experience, is a must and just may help bump your grades up while bringing out the best of your abilities.
3. Please, get some SLEEP.
The human body and brain are notorious for one thing: their constant need for rest. It is extremely important to prioritize good sleep all year, but especially in the week and night before your exam. Remember, too much sleep can cause drowsiness and a lack of focus. You want to go into your test feeling your absolute best, so it’s recommended to get between seven to nine hours of sleep for it to be considered a healthy night. Not only should you get enough sleep, but you should try to sleep within the same window of time each night to feel rested when you wake up and tired when it’s time for bed. Your brain is craving sleep so that it can properly heal for the next day, especially if you have just downloaded new information. Use sleep as a tool to keep you calm and prepared for whatever may come your way. Just be sure not to fall asleep during the actual exam…
4. Eat nutritious foods and hydrate.
Studies have shown that keeping a straightforward diet, which should include many vegetables and fruits, is paramount for having lower levels of depression, anxiety and stress. The great thing about diet is the ability to use its short term effects. If, for just one week, you try to include more nutrition in your diet, you will feel far more calm and at peace. And perhaps more importantly, drink a lot of water. Avoiding alcohol and replenishing your system with much-needed hydration will keep your mind and body clear and functioning at an A+ level.
5. Familiarize yourself.
Humans need to feel comfortable in order to feel safe. Familiarizing yourself with the testing environment by showing up early and picking your favorite seat can help you immensely. Pick out comfortable clothes and select your lucky pen or pencil so that you feel comfortable when game time comes. Trust me, you do not want to run out of ink or try to keep your jacket from making too much noise halfway through an exam. Doing these small things to control your experience lets you lower the amount of variables, which helps you to stay laser focused on the task at hand. Aim to arrive 10 to 15 minutes before the exam begins. In addition, this early arrival may also bode well with your professor.
6. Know you are not alone.
Be sure to make friends with your classmates throughout the semester, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. They are often in the same exact situation as you, and you may know the one thing they have forgotten when it comes to testing. Study together and associate your memories with the answers. If you do not have any friends in your class, study with a family member or tutor. Having someone else to stay accountable with and push you will help as you face the midterm exam. Even someone studying for a different subject can be a good focus partner. Remember you are not the first person ever to have struggled with a midterm or challenging situation, and that you have made it out the other side of midterms before.
If you feel that your stress and anxiety are constant, hard to control or having a noticeable effect on your wellbeing, take advantage of a free visit at the Student Counseling Center.
7. Recognize success and give yourself credit.
The preparation experience for testing and exams can often be a criticism-motivated process – what am I doing wrong? What am I forgetting? While self-awareness is a must, it is important to recognize your victories along the way. College is wonderful, and education is essential, but you and your wellbeing are far more important than passing a test. Your worth and potential aren’t determined by the outcomes of your midterms or any exam. Try your best and leave it all on the field – and when you’re done, take a moment to breathe and celebrate.