Ella educates… combatting exam stress with Mindfulness

April 8, 2020

Ella Simms

This article was written by Ella Simms, Director, We Run Workshops & facilitator on AccessHE’s Uni Connect programme.

We’ve all been there. Spilt coffee down our shirt just before an important meeting, forgotten our homework for our least favourite teacher or been asked last-minute to speak in front a room full of strangers. Heart pumping, thoughts racing. If we are going to give our best, we need to calm down – but how? A fortnight ago Year 10 students at schools Bower Park and Royal Liberty in Havering learned about the benefits of Mindfulness.

When our bodies are going haywire, it’s actually our brain trying to help us, treating any perceived threat as though we are in immediate danger. It floods our body with cortisol, the stress hormone, to enable us to respond to that danger by attacking (fight), running away (flight) or playing dead (freeze). Unfortunately, none of these tactics will work if the reason for your panic is that you didn’t revise for your exam as well as you intended and you’re worried you’re going to fail your Maths GCSE.

This is where Mindfulness comes in. Using your senses is a great hack to get out of your head and return to the present moment. On the Uni Connect programme students identify key trigger points – unsurprisingly, sitting an exam or forgetting your homework were both discussed and many students also reported feeling stressed when taking public transport. Students then take part in two exercises to kick-start their Mindfulness practice – we use the word practice because the more you do it, the easier it becomes.

The first exercise we do is called S.T.O.P.

An easy-to-remember exercise, the perks of which include how rapidly it works – try it for yourself.

S – Stop

Whatever you’re doing, stop. Put your pen down and consciously separate yourself from the task at hand.

T- Take a breath

Some people like to breathe out first to maximise their lung capacity. This simple step activates the calming process, and it takes just four breaths to begin to slow your heart rate down.

O – Observe

This is where the magic happens. Let your eyes fall onto something in front of you – don’t worry about it having to be something interesting – a wall or the table in front of you will do just fine.

As your eyes are fixated, invite a curious mind to mentally explore what you can see. What colours are there? Any lines? Dots? Patterns? How is the light hitting it? Are there any shadows? What textures do you notice? What do you think it would feel like to touch?

P – Proceed.

That’s it! Carry on with what you were doing with a refreshed mind.

How was it for you? This exercise is easy to practice multiple times a day and many who practice report ‘it’s like taking a little holiday.’ The more you do it, the easier it becomes.

The next time you find yourself in a bit of a tizz, first, congratulate yourself for noticing and being aware that you’re not performing at your best. Try the above exercise or alternatively, focus on your breathing. It will clear your head and enable you to perform at your best for the task at hand, whatever that may be.

The S.T.O.P. exercise is one of many tools taught by Andy Barker and Beth Wood at MindFitness. You can find out more about their work at www.mindfitness.training