Hopefully this winter break has allowed you to rest and recharge but unfortunately all good things must come to an end. Exam season will soon be upon us and with that comes a really challenging time for your mental health. Whether it’s coursework or exams, exam season is not going to be a good time for anyone. Fortunately, an easy, free and time friendly solution is the practise of Mindfulness!
If you want to learn more about the basics of Mindfulness and why it’s useful you can refer to this article I wrote last year: Mindfulness 101. This time I’m focusing on reducing anxiety and improving sleep during exam season.
Anxiety and Mindfulness
Anxiety is a normal physiological response to stress and is actually meant to be a form of protection by your body. However, it can frequently be disproportionate to the stressor (the reason you’re stressed) and start to interfere with revision, sleep and your daily life.
Experts in mindfulness separate your mind into 2 states, “Being” mode and “Doing” mode.
Our Doing mode is the problem solving aspect of our brain, constantly seeking logical and tangible solutions for problems. This mode is useful when dealing with problems with a definite and immediate solution. If you’re cold, you put on a jacket.
Our Being Mode is the aspect of our brain that accepts our current situation and decides not to do anything about it. This isn’t you being lazy! It’s a form of living in the present moment and acknowledging all emotions and experiences, good or bad. It’s best for problems with no immediate solution such as feeling stressed for an exam 2 weeks away and is the best mindset for coping with anxious feelings.
The following meditation, known as a body scan, will be focused on shifting your thought pattern from “doing” to “being”.
- Lie down on a comfortable surface and close your eyes. Allow your arms to fall away from your body and your legs to be shoulder width apart.
- Firstly concentrate on your breathing pattern, focus on the abdomen for this. Focus on the sensation of your abdomen rising and falling as you breathe.
- Gradually shift your attention down your body, focus on the sensation of contact between your body and the surface you’re on or the sensations of your clothes on your skin. If you don’t notice anything, shift your attention somewhere else.
- At this last stage of meditation, as you breathe in, imagine the breath travelling from your nose down to your toes, travelling through your body. As your breathe out, imagine the breath travelling back up your body. Keep an awareness of your whole body behaving as one unit.
Remember, it’s normal to be distracted by other thoughts, noises or emotions. Simply acknowledge them for a few seconds and let your attention return to your breathing. Remember, the “doing” part of mindfulness is about awareness of all your emotions. This meditation has no time limit, it can be done in anywhere from 1 minute to 1 hour.
Sleep and Mindfulness
Maintaining a good sleep cycle during exams is crucial for consolidating all the revision you’ve been doing. Ideally, you should be sleeping between 7 and 9 hours a night. Mindfulness routines aren’t necessarily designed to put you to sleep, they’re designed to allow you to have a restful state of mind that will be more conducive to sleep.
The body scan from earlier that was used for reducing anxiety can also be used for achieving sleep. An alternative to this is also known as a counting exercise and can be done after a body scan or can be done on it’s own.
- Begin by focusing on your breath as you did in the body scan however instead of focusing on your abdomen bring your attention up to your face, focus on the sensation of air as it leaves and re-enters your nose.
- As you inhale count 1, as you exhale count 2 .This completes one cycle of the counting exercise
- This exercise is to complete 10 cycles of counting without other interferences such as other thoughts, emotions and stressors which interrupt counting and cause you to lose focus.
- If you do encounter other thoughts, emotions or stressors, acknowledge them and restart your counting from the beginning.
If you find a guided meditation a little daunting you can always start with a free app such as Headspace which can take you through guided meditations very similar to these ones. If you do feel overwhelmed during exam season please don’t hesitate to seek support from the Student Support website.