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Looking after your mental health this online exam season

Term three. Without all of the good things that come with it, stripped back to its core in online form, essentially all that remains is the part of the year that I dread the most – exams.

This year, sadly, we don’t have term three Juicy nights in Terrace Bar, coffees with friends or the collective feeling of struggle in the library to get us through. The sad reality is that we’re having to sit our exams on our own, at home without all of the motivating factors, rewards and fun that comes during and after exam season.

Online exams, at least for me, are probably going to be a lot less stress-inducing than having to sit in a hall full of people, while I try not to hyperventilate from the pressure. That doesn’t mean, however, that this year’s exam season will not take a toll on our mental health.

This year exam season comes with all the stress and none of the fun

This year’s online exams come in many forms and I’m incredibly lucky that mine are more like essays to be done within a time limit and that I only have two. I’m well aware that those who study STEM degrees, in particular, have it much worse. Regardless, the point is that this year exam season comes with all the stress and none of the fun.

Last year, knowing that I would come out of my final exam and get to have drinks and relax with my friends was a motivating force for trying so hard. Revision sessions in the learning grid were broken up by coffee catchups in Costa and the occasional Fusion lunch. This year, most of us are living and working in a small environment and having to come to grips with the fact that we don’t get that separation between work and life, that feeling of release after finishing each exam or the rewards that come with leaving an exam hall.

There are many issues that are created by online exams. For more privileged students, having access to a suitable, quiet working space with a good internet connection and the time to complete the exam undoubtedly puts them in a better position than those that don’t have this. The great thing about having communal learning spaces and always sitting exams in the same place is that people tend to have similar access to the facilities that they need to study. This is simply not possible when everyone is doing the best with what they have got.

Your mental health is more important than anything else

I can’t pretend to know anything about the individual struggles that people are facing right now but while productivity has been pushed endlessly throughout the pandemic, it’s important to remember that we’re not just working from home as if everything is normal. We are living through a global pandemic, so it’s okay to be struggling and it’s okay not to be on top form. Your mental health is more important than anything else.

Reach out to others if you are struggling. You may feel embarrassed or uncomfortable telling friends and family how you feel but they’re likely to understand and may even be feeling the same way. Similarly, it’s okay to have days in which you struggle to do anything as not every day is going to be positive.

If you find yourself getting stressed by revision and the thought of online exams, take yourself away from your laptop or notebook for a little while and just breathe. Do something that takes your mind off the situation.

Have something to look forward to at the end of each exam

Most importantly, have something to look forward to at the end of each exam or when your year is finished. Have a Zoom celebration with friends or just treat yourself to that film you’ve been putting off watching because you haven’t had time. You deserve it. Just because you haven’t got the same feeling of closure that comes from leaving an exam hall, it doesn’t mean that you haven’t worked hard and done incredibly well to even sit an exam right now at all.

Ultimately, I just wish that we’d all stop being so hard on ourselves. Having to sit term three right now in any capacity at all is tough. The world feels like it’s ending and we’re having to carry on as normal, but I just want you all to know that you are doing so well. Productivity doesn’t define your worth and know that just because you can’t sit the exam in the same place as your classmates – we are all here to help and support each other so you aren’t alone.

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