Young people across Australia are currently taking secondary school leaving exams, which can be a very stressful time. Almost half (47%) of Australian students report feeling very tense when studying, and 67% say very anxious even though they are well prepared for an exam.
All this stress can have an impact on mental health and wellness as well as a negative impact on ratings and motivation. It’s important to have strategies to de-stress during this overwhelming time. Mindfulness-based practices have been shown to reduce stress, and make our negative thoughts less threatening. Here are a few you can try.
When doing a meditation, it helps to make sure you are in a compliant environment. Try to sit in a quiet, comfortable place, perhaps cross-legged or in a position comfortable enough to be still for a few minutes. A meditation session can be long or short according to your desires.
Some people like to meditate with their eyes closed, but it doesn’t have to be. If you want to keep your eyes open, try to maintain a relaxed gaze and avoid moving your gaze for the duration of the meditation.
Paying attention to breathing is a widely used and effective way meditation method. It can be as simple as noticing the breath going in and out of the body. It may help to feel the belly rise and fall with the breath, or to pay attention to the sensation of the breath going in and out of the nostrils.
It’s normal for your attention to wander. Each time you notice this happening, gently bring your attention back to the breath. Try to breathe slowly and steadily. You might like to exhale through your mouth for the first few breaths, then continue by inhaling and exhaling through your nose.
If you want to add something to that, you can try counting your breaths. See how much you can achieve before your mind wanders and you lose track, then simply bring your attention back and start again.
Don’t be hard on yourself if your attention wanders. Noticing that your attention wanders and brings it back is part of meditation.
Another option might be to count the duration of your breaths. Exhaling longer than you inhale can help you relax.
This is a breathing technique that can help you center and calm down when you feel stressed. It helps by focusing attention on the breath and also makes the body feel more relaxed by reducing an accelerated heart rate. You can use it anytime, anywhere:
exhale deeply through your mouth
breathe deeply through your nose for four beats
hold your breath for seven beats
exhale through your mouth for eight counts
repeat four to eight times.
Using a mantra, which is a phrase repeated over and over, can be helpful in quieting the chatter of the mind. You can try repeating a phrase such as “I’m here”, “I’m safe”, or “I can do it”. The phrase can be as long or short as you want and can be repeated out loud or in your head.
It can be very helpful to couple the repetition of the phrase with the breath. For example, you can say “I am” while inhaling and “here” while exhaling.
Mindfulness using the senses
Using the senses can be a helpful way to bring your attention to the present moment, no matter where you are, to center yourself, and to engage with your surroundings. You can practice throughout the day, especially whenever you find yourself caught up in your thoughts and feelings.
Here’s an exercise you can do to have fun paying attention to things you might not usually notice. Try to notice five things:
Mindfulness using the body
Going to a yoga class can be a great way to explore mindfulness of the body in a supported environment.
Studies from the United States and India show that mindfulness-based yoga programs in secondary schools can improve grades Where mitigate decreases in classrooms throughout the school year, improving emotional regulationto improve Memoryanger control and fatigue, improve mood and decrease anxiety. Many local studios will offer free or heavily discounted deals for introductory lessons.
Another option might be to try doing some gentle, mindful stretching alone or with a friend. You can try any stretch you like, while paying attention to what happens to your body as a result of the stretch.
Pay attention to how the muscles feel, both during and for a few seconds after the stretch. Be aware of how stretching can affect your breathing. Try to maintain regular, calm breathing throughout the practice. If your mind wanders, simply bring it back to the sensations of your body.
You can practice these measurements at home at exam time, while waiting in line to take your exam, or even in the middle of your exam if you start to feel overwhelmed. Taking a moment to slow your heart rate and calm your thoughts will pay off in the long run.