Learning to embrace the exam/deadline period through the Five Ways to Wellbeing

It’s that time of the year again. The library is packed. The sun is mockingly shining on to the many paper-filled desks of Eddy-B. Coffee and energy drinks are this term’s top selling products. And it’s a common consensus that if you are not currently experiencing high levels of stress there must be something wrong with you.

Photo by Iñaki del Olmo on Unsplash

Unfortunately, relieving worries and pressure is not as simple as affirming several times that ‘grades don’t make a person’ especially when you’re surrounded by peers and lecturers who actually do believe this. Everyone has their own way of coping during this time but if you feel like you’re not doing that or you need some active steps to improving your wellbeing then I’m here to help you a bit. During my four years at the university, I felt sometimes that it was almost expected that needed to embrace the climate of anxiety and exhaustion. That unless I spent x number of hours in the library, that unless I didn’t sleep or eat properly, or had various emotional breakdowns, then I wasn’t doing exam season properly! It may have taken a long time but I now I realise that this it isn’t necessary to do these things and that actually you don’t have to just ‘survive’ this period but embrace it. In doing so, you can trial and formulate some effective coping mechanisms to bust (or prevent!!) the stress.

Developed by the New Economics Foundation in 2008, the ‘Five Ways to Wellbeing’ is an initiative that’s been adopted by major organisations such as Leeds University Union, the charity Mind and the government (to name a few). It suggests five actions to improve person wellbeing, which can decrease mental health problems and help people to flourish. By using this approach, we are able to recognise the areas of our lives that might need feeding to grow and try out some self-helps tools that help you. Mental health, as we know, is something that every person has. It is therefore important that we treat ourselves as we would do if we were feeling physically ill, when stress strikes and that we should take preventative measures to help build up our strength against the plague of pressure. I believe we must slot in time into our studying to strengthen our wellbeing as equal importance to studying itself.

Although there are many suggestions listed below, feel free to look at the resources below or if you have any of your own then try them out! We would love to hear your ideas so comment below if you think your suggestion could help another individual get through this period.

1. Connect: socialise and form relationships with people around you.
During stressful periods it is important that we maintain social interactions with other people. I understand and can empathise with the feeling of ‘I can’t afford to spend time seeing …’ but knowing that by connecting with people, especially if you specifically state that you do not wish to talk about work, is a great distraction and relief.

TOP TIPS:

  • 5 minutes? Ring or text a loved one or a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while
  • 1 hour? Go for a coffee with a friend to break up the day. Simply sit in an environment with noise and conversation rather than dead silence such as the LUU foyer or one of the coffee outlets on campus
  • Longer? Continue going to society meetings or make time to watch television with your housemates in the evening

2. Be Active: find time to move your body.
This doesn’t mean go to the gym (unless that’s your thing) but finding a few moments in the day to get out and do something for your body can help your mental state (think of the endorphins). Being active for half an hour equates to just 2% of your day and there are plenty of ways you can move your body without spending seven hours on a treadmill.

TOP TIPS:

  • 5 minutes? Get up from your chair, walk around the space you are working or get outside for a quick walk.
  • 1 hour? Attend one of our free LUU Wellbeing classes
  • Longer? Spend the afternoon exploring the great Yorkshire countryside with friends — check out Get Out Get Active who have some great activities or hire a bike from the bike hub

3. Keep Learning: learn something new (not necessary to do with your course)

Although it may appear counter-intuitive to learn something unrelated to your exams/deadlines during this period, it actually can help boost your mental wellbeing by distracted you and taking the emphasis off the individual assignments you have. It can improve our sense of purpose and help us connect with the world around us.

TOP TIPS:

  • 5 minutes? Learn a new word or the history of a word or a fun fact that you didn’t know yesterday
  • 1 hour? Start a craft project or something creative, read someone’s dissertation (I enjoy learning about what other people are learning — I don’t care if that makes me a nerd), listen to a podcast or an inspiring TEDTalk
  • Longer? Come to some of the Exams Support sessions at the union and learn new skills, visit one of the city’s free museums or see what your society’s have on this time of year.

4. Take Notice: pay attention to the present moment

You may have heard of the term ‘mindfulness’, which is largely associated with taking notice of the world around you. Although it can be difficult for some people to stop and do nothing for a while, studies have shown that appreciating the small things can help us to cope with our bustling thoughts. I like to imagine my life having a constant director’s commentary, giving opinions, thoughts, judgements on everything. When I take notice of the world it temporarily pauses the commentary and allows me to just be!

TOP TIPS:

  • 5 minutes? Do some breathing exercises for five minutes, write a reflective log of your day when you get home and notice the good things that have happened, eat a different breakfast, sit in a different library, take a different route to campus or just use a different pen!
  • 1 hour? Come to a meditation session at the union or with the Student Counselling and Wellbeing Centre or go for a walk in the park and appreciate the nature around you. Or just take a break every day for a significant period of time.
  • Longer? Keep a diary to record difficult feelings and write about your experiences or practice mindfulness on an everyday basis (Headspace app has a great ten day tracker for this)

5. Give: small or large give something to others to help yourself

It’s very easy to get caught up in yourself when you are focusing on your own productivity or personal goals for that day and I don’t mean to say you should start giving away your student finance or giving up all your time to volunteer (at least not right now), but giving can help us connect and put stress into perspective.

TOP TIPS:

  • 5 minutes? Maintain basic politeness and smile at people — it can really help someone who might be struggling that day. Do a random act of kindness for someone. Or just keep your living space tidy for other people.
  • 1 hour? Study with someone else and help each other or give feedback on someone else’s work if you can. Ring a family member that might appreciate the call.
  • Longer? Join a volunteering society or volunteer your time to a charity through the university or externally

I hope this has inspired you somewhat into the importance of maintaining and improving your mental wellbeing.

If you are experiencing difficult thoughts and feelings about stress and exams and want to speak to someone, come in to see Help and Support in the union or access the great self-help resources we have available to students.

Resources and references:

Mindkit: more tips for the 5 Ways!

LUU: check out our events/clubs and societies

Mind: the charity mind has a great blog post on exam stress

NHS: learn more about the 5 Ways from the NHS moodzone site

Student Counselling and Wellbeing Centre: some information on the services that they provide

Big White Wall: fantastic FREE site to access wellbeing courses or just vent out your feelings

New Economics Foundation: the original document that published the 5 Ways