It’s the most stressful time of the year. It’s December. We’re counting down the days until we get to be at home with our families, cuddling our pets and baking cookies. But we’re still at school, camping out at the filled Bata library, where it’s crunch time to work on impending final papers, lab reports and study for exams. We all get stressed and anxious at this time of year, but those who it hits it hardest is the ones like myself battling anxiety.
You start to worry there won’t be enough time to finish all you need to do. You waste time freaking out and calculating how long things will take you, and stay in bed longer putting of doing work, which then makes your stress worse.
You work hard making study notes, and going over everything you might need to know, telling yourself you got this. Then the exam day comes. You remember reviewing many of these concepts during the week, and know you know the material but somehow seem to forget everything you’ve learnt the last several months. You tense up, want to cry and feel like you’re going to hyperventilate, but you put down what you can remember.
Some people’s brains are more wired to deal with stressful situations than others, and anxiety is a hard thing to deal with, and can hinder one from doing their best. Stress is a naturally healthy response to danger, but is not fun when stress and anxiety are caused by school, which is greatly increasing.
To be able to supply the body with larger supply of oxygen, the heart starts to pump faster, increasing one’s blood pressure. When you’re stressed, the body releases a large amount of a stress hormone called cortisol, which slows down one’s speed of memory retrieval.
The chemical dopamine is also important in determining how well a person’s brain thinks, and our brains work best when it is at a normal level. These levels are controlled by enzymes which get instructions from the gene COMT which helps regulate neural activity. There are two types of COMT, one creates enzymes that remove dopamine from the brain more quickly, while the other one removes dopamine more slowly.
People usually fair better when they have slow acting enzymes. Under a high stress level, dopamine levels increase so much the slow acting enzymes cannot keep up, and often the person cannot think properly.
There are lots of ways to reduce stress and anxiety around exam time. It’s important to remember in the grand scheme of these, one exam is not going to affect your future all that much. It’s important to study, but often not the stress we put on ourselves. Make a game plan, make a list of the things you need to do and organize when you are going to do them.
It may seem overwhelming, but it helps to feel accomplished after checking another thing off your list. Talk about it with someone, and write down how you feel, expressing emotions always works. Find a supportive study group, and organize your notes to make a sheet or few of everything you will need to know. Exercise daily; organize your time to include a trip to the gym or at least take a short walk around the block or to Tim Horton’s.
Studies show that exercise actually helps us retain information, as well as increasing energy levels, helping us stay focused when we study and put you in a better mood. Eat properly, drink lots of water, and lastly, get lots of sleep, it helps you focus and it is easier for enzyme levels to normalize. Exams are scary, but the end of term is in sight, and you’re smart and capable if you’ve made it this far. May the exam odds be ever in your favor.