Having the ability and tools to calm down and clear your head is very helpful for those getting ready for exams.

Calodagh McCumiskey

The Leaving Cert and Junior Cert exams start this week. This can be a stressful time. Having the ability and tools to calm down and clear your head is very helpful for those getting ready for exams. And it is an important life skill for all of us in this age with so many different pressures, distractions and a fast pace of life.

The first thing to note is that it is normal to feel a bit worried. It may cause you to feel low, anxious and even affect your food and sleep habits. If this is familiar, you can do something about it. The most important thing is at the start of the day, or before the exam, to tune your mind positively. Just as a musician tunes their instrument and a singer, their voice before a show, you can tune your mind. There is no disadvantage to this. But it takes a conscious effort to take charge. Having a clear and calm mind will enable you to remember what you have studied and learned over the years. It will also prepare you to be at your best for problem solving.

You tune your mind by centering it – focusing on something like the breath. This steady’s it - and then by setting positive intentions for your day or your exam.

There are many practices that only take one to two minutes that can help.

There is a lot of wisdom in that phrase we often hear: ‘ Just take 5 deep breaths’. That alone can be a game changer. Deep breathing activates your parasympathetic nervous system. This sends a signal to your brain that you’re safe and don’t need to use your fight, flight, or freeze response. This also brings more oxygen to your brain and calms your body. Being centred and steady enables you to focus.

Before any practice, sit comfortably and close your eyes. This naturally turns your attention inward.

And focusing on your breath, you naturally disentangle from all of the thoughts of your day and life and the outward stresses.

Box breathing is a practice used by the Navy seals that involves breathing in for a count of four (counting in your mind), holding your breath for a count of four exhaling for a count of four and again holding your breath for a count of four. Another practice that works very well involves clenching your fists while inhaling deeply – and then releasing both your breath and your hands slowly.

And during exams, remember to be kind to yourself. Set yourself up for success. Make life as easy as possible. Plan and maintain a good routine each day. Make sure there is time for relaxation and exercise. Eat well. Get enough sleep. Study when you are studying but don’t worry about it when you are not. Don’t load pressure on yourself.

Stay focussed on what you can do and what you can control. Avoid conversations that agitate you. Stay away from people who are talking about the worst case scenario all the time. Spend time with people that help you keep things in the right perspective. Ask for help if you need it. Keep caffeine to a minimum and drink lots of water. Fresh air and sunlight are very energising.

Do your best each day. Now is not the time to think long-term. If stress arises, go back to focusing on your breath and being steady. And then continue with your plan and routine. Best of luck everyone!

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