Don’t let mental illness get you down during exams

Photo by Yitian Cai

Being a student in general is hard, especially when you’re in university. Laurier is a school full of diversity, with students coming from all over the world to study. It’s a new environment, with new people, new surroundings and, for some, even a new culture.

Having to go out of your comfort zone to make friends, be active in the school community or even to just fit in can be exhausting, both emotionally and physically.

With midterms finally coming to an end and final papers and exams on the way, it can be extremely difficult to manage stress and anxiety.

Although not everyone is willing to openly admit it, stress and anxiety are felt by pretty much each person at some point in their lives. Some stress may just be a result of an upcoming test, a presentation or maybe even asking your crush out.

However, some stress is also chronic, and it’s something you have to learn to manage on a day-to-day basis. Stress, anxiety and a variety of other emotions have a huge impact on your mental health and how you perceive the world.

I was speaking to a pharmacist one day and he said to me, “seems like everyone nowadays has depression or anxiety.”

Is that really the case, or is it just more prevalent now because it’s finally relevant? Bell Canada has made an outstanding effort to raise awareness for mental health while WLU has been making efforts for mental health initiatives on campus. You may have already seen a slide or two from the wellness centre while in class.

With finals on the way, a lot of students that are facing stress and having a hard time managing their emotions, and it may be harder to get one-on-one help at the Wellness Centre. However, there are some tips and tricks that I find have worked well in how I manage my emotions — the bonus is, these can be done from the comfort of your home, the library or anywhere you are.

I recommend that the next time you feel stressed, anxious or just overcome with emotion, you try one of these steps to help keeping yourself functioning to the best you can.

Here are three ways to effectively manage stress and clear your mind:

Breathe. Seems easy and frivolous, but it works. Stop what you’re doing, put your pencils, phone, book or laptop down. Relax your neck and your shoulders. Close your eyes. Take a deep breath in, all the way, until you can feel it in your gut. Hold it for about five to 10 seconds.

Now relax, slowly breathe out, letting ALL the air and ‘negativity’ from your body out. With every breath, focus your mind to your breathing, think about nothing else.

Do this about 10 times or until you feel like you’re relaxed. Research has shown that deep breathing increases supply of oxygen to the brain, stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system and bringing about a feeling of calm.

Anchor yourself. Just a like a ship at sea amidst a storm, sometimes our minds can be overcome with emotion. When you try to deal with all of your emotions at the same time, it becomes difficult to focus on the present.

To hold yourself steady, you must drop your anchor. Sit up straight and relax your shoulders.

Plant your feet against the ground so you can feel the pressure of your feet on the floor. Sometimes stress and emotions can take shape as physical discomfort; acknowledge what you are feeling and where you are feeling it inside. Close your eyes and take a deep breath. Breathe around that feeling.

Take a few breaths if necessary. Now, open your eyes and look around you. Take in your surroundings. Name five things around you that you can see. Name four things around you that you can hear.

Name three things around you that you can feel. Lastly, name two things that you can smell and taste. Using your five senses, you are able to steady yourself through distracting your mind, allowing you to regain control of your emotions.

Write. Seems counterintuitive, especially when you’re stressed about something like writing a paper, but I want you to try it. When you’re scared, stressed or anxious and you can’t seem to get out of it. Take a paper or make a note on your phone and explain how and what you’re feeling. Writing is just as efficient a method as talking to relieve your stresses.

I recommend that the next time you feel stressed, anxious or just overcome with emotion, you try one of these steps to help keeping yourself functioning to the best you can.

Switch them around, try different methods or even use them altogether. The most important thing to do is try and practice. The more you practice it, the more naturally it will come when you feel overwhelmed.

Always remember you are not alone, and if these steps don’t work for you, seek help. Talk to an advisor, counsellor or doctor. See the wellness centre or other services listed below. In the words of one of my favourite professors, “If your car is making funny noises, you go to the mechanic. So when your brain makes funny noises, you should go see a professional.”

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