Antidotes to Exam Stress
Streamline, organize and stay focused to get the most out of your available study time.
Flow Charts and Mind Mapping
PureFlow for iOS (free with in-app purchases). An app for creating flowcarts, with an eye toward simplicity and ease of editing.
Simple Mind (free with in-app purchases). A cross-platform tool to organize your thoughts, remember things and generate new ideas.
StayFocusd for Chrome restricts time on time-wasting web sites.
Leechblock for Firefox or Chrome blocks time-wasting web sites.
The Pomodoro Technique: Get a timer and set it for 25 minutes. Start the timer, begin working, and don’t stop for 25 minutes. When the timer goes off, stop working and take a short (5 minutes) break. That’s one “pomodoro.” Repeat the process, and every four pomodoros, take a longer (15-30 minutes) break to recharge. This is interval training for your brain. Instead of tiring easily, you likely will feel able to study for longer periods of time and focus more intently during the shorter 25-minute work periods.
Meditation Apps and Downloads
Research shows that meditation improves brain functioning and energy levels and lowers cortisol levels (the stress hormone). Take a few deep breaths, slow down your heart rate and increase your ability to keep working.
Insight Timer for iOS and Android (free with in-app purchases). An app with customizable meditation resources, guided meditations, and access to teachers and communities. If you download it on your phone, click the headphones on the bottom bar, go to Playlists and select First Time for an assortment of short meditations.
Aura for iOS and Android (free with in-app purchases). An app that helps you find mindfulness meditation, life coaching, supportive stories, and music in 3 minutes or less.
Calm for iOS and Android (free with in-app purchases). A very popular app for mental fitness, relaxation, and sleep.
The Free Mindfulness Project has collected a range of (free) guided meditation audio files under Creative Commons license. Options range from a short 3-minute break to a longer 48-minute deep body scan.
UCLA Health Free Guided Meditations are available in English and Spanish, audio file and written transcript (English only).
Headspace for desktop, iOS, and Android (free with in-app purchases). Basic (free) version of the platform includes core meditation and mindfulness resources. Subscription version ($7.99-12.99 per month) includes much, much more.
Grounding Exercises (for use any time, even during exams)
Overwhelming stress can disconnect you from your environment. It is easy to get caught up in everything you have to do or what you are afraid will happen if you don’t do it all. Grounding exercises focus on immediate surroundings and re-establish a connection with reality.
1. Remind yourself of the current moment. Engage all the senses. What do you see? What do you smell? What do you hear? What do you feel? What do you taste? Variation: notice all your senses as you sip on a cold or warm drink.
2. If you wake up suddenly during the night and feel disoriented or distressed, remind yourself who you are and where you are. Look around the room and notice familiar objects and name them. Feel the bed you are lying on, the softness of the sheets or blankets, the warmth or coldness of the air, and notice any sounds you hear. Remind yourself that you are safe.
3. Step outside, notice the temperature, the sounds around you, the ground under your feet, the smell in the air, the sights.
4. “54321” Grounding Exercise:
- Name 5 things you can see in the room with you.
- Name 4 things you can feel (tactile; e.g. “chair on my back” or “feet on floor”)
- Name 3 things you can hear right now
- Name 2 things you can smell right now
- Name 1 good thing about yourself
Journaling and Reflection
Even brief reflective writing can help lessen the impact of stress and other emotions, helping you move toward more focus and relaxation in your body. If you’re feeling lost or overwhelmed, take a ten minute break, and write a short journal entry on one of the following topics.
1. How have you felt during the past week? Has there been a high point? A low point? What happened after those moments that brought you back to balance? What will you remember about them?
2. When exams are over, who are you most excited to talk to? What are you going to say to them first? What are you going to ask them?
Don’t go it alone! If you are struggling and feeling overwhelmed or are worried about a friend, email the Office of the Dean of Students or call 202-662-4066 to learn about additional resources.