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As exam season looms for many, it’s worth paying extra attention to the symptoms of stress which may be arising for you and others around you.

Since 1992, Stress Awareness Month has been held in April to raise awareness around stress and promote a stress-free lifestyle. Despite this campaign running for almost 30 years, it is more prevalent than ever as stress remains an underlying issue in the UK. According to an NUS survey, 87% of students experienced stress, 77% experienced anxiety, and 48% experienced panic over the course of their study.

To mark Stress Awareness Month, we want to talk about stress and its effects. One thing we have learnt throughout the duration of our placement is that everyone deals with stress in different ways – and some coping mechanisms can be less helpful than others.

What is stress?

At its most basic level, stress is the body’s response to pressures from a situation or life event – whether at work or in one’s personal life.

Stress isn’t always a negative response, either. That very feeling of pressure can often encourage people to push through difficult situations and step out of their comfort zone, such as when presenting in front of a large group.

What are the signs of stress?

We all experience stress differently, and our responses can vary depending on the situation. Sometimes it is quite easy to tell that you are stressed, and at other times you may not be able to recognise the signs in yourself.

How you might behave if you are stressed:

  1. Unable to concentrate on assignments or exam revision
  2. Becoming easily agitated, frustrated, and moody
  3. Constantly worrying
  4. Eating too much or too little
  5. Attempting to ‘self medicate’ with other substances (e.g. caffeine)

How stress might affect you physically:

  1. Chest pain and a rapid heartbeat
  2. Muscle tension
  3. Headaches or migraines
  4. Tiredness and a lack of energy
  5. Problems getting to sleep

I’m stressed! What can I do about it?

We propose four tips to help you reduce your stress levels in the run-up to exam season:

Stay organised

Keeping on top of everything in life will help you feel less anxious. Whether this be your workload of home life, a to-do list or a diary can help settle any fears of not being able to complete tasks on time.

Take a walk

Removing yourself temporarily from the area you find stressful can help clear your mind and lift your mood. Take five or ten minutes to walk around the building or change up your working scenery to focus better on the task at hand.

Reduce caffeine intake

Working long hours and struggling to get enough sleep leaves many of us reaching for a mug of coffee come 9am. Whilst it may create the illusion of increased concentration and productivity in the short term, cutting back to only one or two caffeinated drinks today can provide longer-term benefits such as helping you feel less anxious and uneasy.

Talk about it

The easiest to say but often the hardest to do: ask for help or advice. Be mindful of your friends, too, and take the time to listen and understand what mindset they might be in. Don’t always send a text or email – speak on the phone or talk to them face to face if you have that option. This will not only give you a direct answer but will also reduce the risk that your discussed will get ‘lost in translation’.

If you want to read more about Stress Awareness Month or gain further tips on how to deal with stress in your own life, Anxiety UK have created a survey to help you ascertain your stress levels. Most importantly, you can then explore different strategies to help keep on top of any anxious feelings before they escalate.

Thanks for reading,

Lily and Megan

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