How to revise when you’re anxious about something
Sometimes life throws stressful situations at you, even when you're already working towards your exams. Whether your anxiety has gone through the roof because of a global pandemic, or something that's going on in your personal life, this article has important advice about how to revise when you're anxious about something over and above your exams.
I'm writing this post in the first couple of weeks of the Covid-19 outbreak. You might also like to read this post: Coronavirus and your GCSEs and A Levels.
How to revise when you're anxious about something
1. Acknowledge your feelings
The first step is to acknowledge your feelings, rather than trying to ignore and suppress them. When you acknowledge your feelings and tune into them you're more likely to be able to process them in a healthy way.
There are different ways of acknowledging your feelings. You could try:
Tuning into your body
This might sound a bit ‘woo', but just sit quietly and comfortably and close your eyes. Be ready to listen to and observe what your body is telling you. You might hear thoughts, feel feelings or observe tension in different parts of your body. Once you know what's going on it's easier to process it.
If you're the kind of person who likes writing or journalling, just pick up a pen and write and write until everything you're thinking and feeling has come out of you. Once you've externalised it you'll feel better, and you'll also have a clearer idea of what's going on in your head.
If you're not a fan of writing, try drawing your thoughts and feelings instead. Again, this is a way of externalising how you feeling so it's not inside you anymore.
2. Break the anxiety cycle
Did you know that stress has a cycle? If you're able to work your way through from the beginning to the end of the stress cycle, rather than getting stuck in the middle of it, you'll feel a lot better.
Ideas for breaking through the anxiety or stress cycle include:
- Deep breathing – for example breathing in deeply, so your belly expands, for four counts, then breathing out deeply for the count of six. Do this six times so you've done it for a minute.
- Exercise – sometimes you need some vigorous exercise like running, HIIT or even boxing to get strong, angry feelings out. Other times you might be better doing something like yoga which will soothe your nerves. Do the exercise that calls to you, don't do something like going for a long, hard run when you're feeling fragile and low on energy.
- Listen to some music. And, when I say listen, I really mean listen. Put the music on, close your eyes and really carefully observe the music. This is a form of mindfulness and will take your mind away from your other thoughts and help you to calm down. Even better, if you're musical yourself, make some music of your own.
- Laugh. It's hard to be anxious when you're truly laughing. I interviewed laughter yoga expert, Katie Rose White, for my podcast. You can listen here.
- Sleep. It's very hard to carry the anxiety over from one day to the next when you've had a good night's sleep. Sleep is a bit like washing yourself clean of your anxiety, unless, of course, you have a diagnosis of anxiety or have chronic stress. Listen to my podcast episode about how to get a better night's sleep here.
3. Take control
Once you've got yourself feeling a bit better it's time to start thinking about how to take control and stop your anxiety cycle from restarting. Let's take the example of covid-19. There are two things that can really feed the cycle of anxiety about this:
- Checking social media all the time – my social media feeds have been full of posts about it and few of them were reassuring.
- Checking the news all the time – again, this just feeds fear and anxiety. When there isn't any new news it feels like there's a vacuum which feeds fear, and most of the time, when there is news, it's not news that fills you with hope. My advice would be to check the news once or twice per day maximum so you know what you need to know, but you can think about other things the rest of the time.
The important thing is to trust that anything you need to know will reach you in time.
If your anxiety isn't being caused by a global pandemic, what can you do to make yourself feel better? For example, if a close relative is unwell, do you need more or less contact with them to help you focus on your revision? Would it be helpful to plan in phone a call at the same time every day so that you feel like you're reaching out to them making them feel loved and getting the information you need about their condition to soothe your worries?
Or, if you're being bullied what can you do to break the cycle? The best thing to do is to tell your parents and a trusted adult at school. If the bullies are online you could block them or just spend way less time on social media so they can't get to you there.
The two steps to breaking the anxiety cycle
- Recognise what is feeding your anxiety
- Take steps to cut out the source of your anxiety or, at least, reduce it.
4. Stay in control
Once you've got back in control of your anxiety, take steps to look after yourself and stay in control. Here are some suggestions.
1. Take regular exercise that's right for you
Exercise is a great way of processing stress and anxiety through your nervous system. Getting fresh air at the same time is even better – it's a free drug that makes you feel better.
2. Look after your mind
Do things like regularly meditating, listening to music, creating art or just sitting and looking at a beautiful view. These things will restore you and give you the capacity to cope with stress and anxiety when it does come your way.
3. Eat well
Eating whole foods such as un-processed fruits and vegetables is proven to improve our mental resilience because it improves our internal body chemistry. So, don't reach for the chocolate or the crisps, grab some nuts or an apple instead.
4. Put sleep first
Everything about your mental and physical health will be worse if you're not getting enough sleep. Prioritise sleep above everything else and you should be able to cope with most things that are thrown your way.
How to revise more calmly
As I said at the beginning, it's normal to feel stressed and anxious about revision and exams. But, if there are other things going on in your life that are making you more anxious, it's important that you reduce anxiety in other areas, such as revision, as much as possible so that you can cope.
This doesn't mean ditching your exams because they're too much. Instead, find ways to work in a more focused and productive way.
This is something that I can help you with. Inside The Extraordinaries Club, my online study skills programme, I teach GCSE and A Level students how to revise effectively. This covers everything from your mindset to your revision techniques. One parent who is a member with her daughter said this:
“My daughter failed most her mocks in December. Since joining your course her mindset has changed. She passed all of her recent exams. It has shown her that if you put in the effort you achieve better results. More importantly, it has lifted her self esteem. She was so happy to get better grades. Thank you Lucy.”
At times of anxiety, we could all do with feeling better about ourselves. I can help you with that, reduce your worries about whether you're revising ‘properly' and get better grades. Click here to find out more about The Extraordinaries Club.