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What is stress and how can it be managed successfully?

What is stress?
Almost everyone has felt completely overwhelmed while studying for an exam, or lost focus during a test because they were afraid they weren't doing well enough. This is stress. But how can you successfully overcome stress and use the nerves to your advantage?

What is stress?

First of all, what is stress? Stress is the body's response to being under pressure, or to feeling threatened or overwhelmed.

Both physical and mental stress can causes certain reactions that are harmful to your overall health. Stress can manifest itself in different ways, so what what counts as a stressful situation depends from person to person. For example, it can be stressful for one person to make a phone call. Someone else might find it stressful being in a noisy place, or having to spend time alone. These are different situations that can cause stress for different people.

What happens to your body when you are stressed?

When a person is stressed, it triggers a response in the brain which stimulates the release of adrenaline and cortisol. This leads to an increase in heart rate, hyperventilation and changes the size of blood vessels.

Symptoms of stress

Stress can manifest itself in many different ways and affect people physically, emotionally and even mentally.

The physical symptoms of stress can include headaches, muscle aches, trouble sleeping, loss of appetite, and indigestion. Shortness of breath or anxiety and unusual sweating are also common.

The emotional symptoms include increased sensitivity and nervousness, crying, anxiety, excitement, sadness and a feeling of being generally unwell.

The mental symptoms can include trouble concentrating, which can lead to mistakes and forgetfulness, and difficulty taking initiative or making decisions.

Now that you know what stress is and how it can affect your body, how can you overcome stress, or at least reduce it?

Stress relief before the exam

If you have an exam the next day, you should definitely not spend the whole day or the night before your exam studying. This is useless and will not bring you any positive results. Due to the stressful situation, your brain won't be able to retain much new information at all. Instead, you should try to relax, do something you enjoy and not focus on the exam.

To achieve this, you can try doing an activity that you enjoy. Ideally, this should be something that uses up energy and thus reduces stress. For example, go to the park, play a sport, watch a film with friends or visit a museum. The goal is to have a good time and unwind. It is also important that you sleep well the night before the exam. About 7-8 hours of sleep is sufficient, but this also depends on the individual. If you have trouble falling asleep, try listening to some relaxing music or doing breathing exercises. For a restful sleep, it is a good idea to pack your bag the night before the exam so you can be sure you have everything with you. Finally, it's a good idea to set your alarm a bit earlier than usual so you have enough time to wake up, have a good breakfast and show up ready for the exam.

If you struggle to sleep the night before an exam, check out our blog to get six tips for sleeping well during exam periods.

Reduce stress during the exam

Imagine you are sitting in the exam hall and you're so stressed that you begin to lose focus. If this happens, you must first relax in order to collect yourself again and be able to continue taking the exam. There are different solutions for this, but some of the best-known tools are breathing techniques and meditation. Don't worry about wasting time because it only takes five minutes and you'll be able to work more efficiently after those 5 minutes. Close your eyes and immerse yourself in a memory or imagine a place where you feel comfortable. Breathe deeply and take your time. You will start to relax and will soon be able to throw yourself back into the exam. Also, don't worry if you can't answer a question right away, because sometimes you can't think of the answer until later, so move on and come back to it at the end.

Stress can appear in many situations, but as long as you can find ways ease it and you are aware of the effects it can have on you, it is not a cause for concern.
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