How to destress during exam season

With the upcoming weeks filled with preparing for finals and Advanced Placement (AP) exams near, there is stress and anxiety in the air. While it’s easy to get caught up in the frenzy of studying and projects that come with the end of the year, students should remember to value their mental health. Here are ten ways to help destress during these stressful times: 

1. Identify and organize your stress

Before we go into any other tips, think about what stresses you out. Is it one of your classes (or multiple), another commitment or perhaps a combination of both? When you pinpoint what it is that’s stressing you out, it’s easier to tackle it.

Take time to sit down and think about your schedule. It may seem like a big jumble of assignments, projects and tests, but once you build yourself a schedule and a task list, it helps you stay more organized. By tackling large, abstract goals like “I want to get good grades,” into smaller, concrete goals like “review three chapters by tonight” or “read 50 pages of the textbook,” you will feel more organized and prepared for what’s to come.


2. Unplug

It’s easy to get caught up on social media, but when it comes down to it, it’s time to turn off your phone. It’s so easy to get sucked into your feed, and you end up spending hours scrolling versus studying. Proper time management is often key when it comes to preventing anxiety, and it allows us to feel in-control of our situation. Perhaps use apps that set timers that limit how long you can stay on certain apps that you know will distract you, or delete them for the time being.



3. Eat well 

When you’re stressed, your body releases cortisol, a stress hormone, to manage it. Studies have shown that there are many foods that help metabolize cortisol, listed below:

  • Avocados
  • Bananas
  • Broccoli 
  • Dark chocolate
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Spinach

There are also foods to avoid stress, namely those containing caffeine, high sugar foods like pastries, simple carbs and soda. However, eat what feels best for you. Each person has their own comfort food, but stay mindful of what you’re consuming during stressful times—don’t rely on food to destress. Practice other stress management skills to keep your mind and body healthy.


4. Mindfulness

Everyone has heard about the importance of mindfulness, but it is a classic and easy method to destress. Practicing deep breathing and meditation helps reduce tension. Whether you practice some yoga or breathing exercises, meditation has been proven to reduce high blood pressure. It also allows you to practice inward-focused thought and clear your mind. There are plenty of apps and videos to help with all forms of meditation, so sit back and relax.


5. Exercise

Exercise is another easy and effective way to manage stress, even if we have heard about it before. Going outside and taking a simple 10 minute walk helps improve your mood. Exercising is also a great outlet for any pent up energy. But don’t do exercises that you don’t enjoy; do a physical activity that you enjoy, whether that’s taking a job or dancing.


6. Take breaks 

According to The Learning Center, a great way to reduce stress is to take effective breaks. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed while studying, so take some time, which can be as little as a minute, to let your body and brain refresh. When taking a break, you can participate in any activity like those listed in this list, or listening to music, grabbing a snack or getting up for a change of scenery. However, less effective study-break methods include scrolling through the internet or social media, so it’s best to avoid those and similar activities.


7. Reflect and express your feelings 

Think about your goals or what you’re currently feeling; take time to be introspective. Maybe write your thoughts down through journaling. Don’t bottle your stress and anxiety inwards, but instead find healthy outlets like a creative art form to release it. It’s important to practice self awareness and to check your mindset. What are you studying for? Is it for the grade, yourself or other factors? This ties back to your goals and what you want to achieve.


8. Talk to a support person

Whenever you’re feeling the stress that comes with exams and intense studying, there’s one thing that’s certain: you are not alone. To take a pause on studying to talk to someone helps reduce stress and lets you take a much needed breather from the books. Reach out to friends, family, or people on campus like teachers and counselors for support if you feel like you need it. A chat will likely lift your spirits, because before your grade should come mental health.


9. Get enough quality sleep 

It’s tempting to stay up late studying, but it’s not a good study habit, as studies have shown that stress levels increase with less sleep. Try going to bed and getting up at the same time everyday to help set your body’s internal clock to optimize your quality of sleep. Avoid caffeine in the afternoon or evening hours, as you may think these stimulants give you more time to study, but instead really cut into your sleep. There are also many sleep calculators that help you go through the proper sleep cycle and, if taking a nap, go for a power nap, which is 10 to 20 minutes, or 90 minute naps. A power nap allows you to wake up feeling refreshed and energized while a 90 minute nap allows you to go through the sleep cycle and therefore leaves you feeling rejuvenated and more focused and energized.


10. Be kind to yourself 

The best thing you can do to regulate stress is being kind to yourself. It’s easy to get caught up in external or internal expectations, but remember that you are allowed to take breaks, to rest and to make mistakes. Having self-compassion means accepting all of who you are, even with your imperfections, as you would a good friend or a loved one. When feeling anxious, PsychCentral recommends that you get out of your head and ground yourself or use a soothing touch like one or both hands on the heart or belly, a hand on your face or giving yourself a hug.


Ways Irvine High Student and Staff Destress

El Vaquero: What are your favorite ways to destress?

Harish Seenivas, Junior: “I think working on small coding projects on my computer or watching sports helps me to destress. These activities use a different part of my brain and lets me focus on something else before having to refocus my attention on retaining lecture information or working on problem sets. Staring at the same thing for long periods of time can get frustrating, so I like that they force me to take a break.” 


El Vaquero: What are your tips on how to destress during finals/AP testing?

Kevin O’Connell, Counselor: “One of the killers of stress is to be prepared. Being prepared ahead of time creates a little more sanity and hopefully less stress because you know what you’re going to do and when you’re going to commit to it. Also being connected with your friends can help reduce stress with the common experience that you are all going through the same thing. Some no-brainers are that you have to eat and sleep well to get your engine to actually work to not feel as drained or stressed. And know that once those tests are over, you can enjoy that time—you tried your best and that’s all you can do.”


Art by Maia Zhu