Mindfulness tips for exam season | Varsity Education

Mindfulness tips for exam season

Exam season is now upon us and, whether it’s GCSEs, A levels or degrees, young people across the UK will undoubtedly be experiencing the stress and pressure of revision. There may be no magic solution but mental health experts believe that the practice of mindfulness can help concentration and focus. Not to mention strengthening the immune system and switching the central nervous system from flight/fight mode into a relaxed aware state.

Mindfulness is a mental state achieved by focusing awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. It’s become an increasingly popular way of training attention on the present moment that has been shown to improve symptoms of anxiety and depression. However, there has been little robust evidence on its effectiveness in supporting students’ mental health – until now.

According to recent research from the University of Cambridge, mindfulness training has been proven to help build resilience in university students and improve their mental health, particularly during stressful summer exams. The study involved around 600 Cambridge students and concluded that the introduction of mindfulness courses could help prevent mental illness and boost students’ wellbeing.

Evidence of effectiveness
Mindfulness is actually an ancient Buddhist meditation. Today, it is championed by the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow and Emma Watson, and even recommended by the NHS.

It also makes people feel better within themselves, the research claims. In particular, practicing mindfulness by sharing challenging experiences with others may help to reduce social shame, which is a common trigger for stress, according to the researchers.

“To the best of our knowledge, this is the most robust study to date to assess mindfulness training for students, and backs up previous studies that suggest it can improve mental health and wellbeing during stressful periods,” reported Dr Julieta Galante, of Cambridge’s psychiatry department, who led the study.

Professor Peter Jones, also from Cambridge’s department of psychiatry, added: “The evidence is mounting that mindfulness training can help young people cope with accumulative stress. It appears to be popular, feasible, acceptable and without stigma.”

The findings, published in the journal The Lancet Public Health last October, add to the growing evidence that mindfulness could prove to be a useful tool for many students – from a 16-year-old tackling their first major exams to older students completing PhDs.

Exam stress buster: The five senses drill

  1. Pause and take one or two deep breaths to help bring you into the present moment.
  2. Look around you, and silently name three things that you see in your immediate vicinity
  3. Now opening to the sounds around you, silently note and name three things that you can hear right now
  4. Bringing your attention to your body, silently name three sensations that you can feel in this moment (maybe warmth, tingling, contraction, coolness)
  5. Bringing your attention to smell and taste: what do you notice in your immediate awareness when you bring your attention to these senses?

Take one or two breaths to finish.

Repeat this exercise to deliberately bring your awareness to what is happening in the present moment and to build your resilience to dealing with exam anxiety.

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