Studying, stress and staying healthy

Girls share their top tips for tackling stressful times

20 August 2019

As girls across England, Wales and Northern Ireland wait for their exam results, we turned to our advocates to find out how they handle the pressure of exams, revision and more.

In our 2019 Girls' Attitudes Survey, we heard from over 2000 girls aged 7-21. They told us that exam stress is one of the major pressures they’re facing. Girls revealed how much they worry about their grades affecting their lives, and 64% of them told us they think the pressure to do well is too great.

So we asked our Girlguiding Advocates what stress-busting tips they had to share. Their advice can help through exam periods, or can support your overall wellbeing. Read on to see what they shared.

Sophie’s just completed her A-levels, she said the three things that helped her the most were:

  1. Start early - There will always be one friend who mechanically repeats “cramming works for me”, and whilst this may ring true for them, research has shown that cramming makes for less effective revision and creates more stress.
  2. Break it up - taking regular breaks means stress is less likely to pile up. Breaks help re-stimulate the mind, allows information to be processed and relieves tension in the body.
  3. Get in touch with yourself - Whilst it may feel isolating at first, the revision period can allow you to discover more about yourself and what works for you. I found practicing mindful walking and journaling helped alleviate my stress as I reminded myself how far I have come and what I can achieve.

Abi shared these three great tips:

  1. Don’t go through it on your own; talk to someone!  It doesn’t have to be about the stress necessarily, but just having normal conversations with friends or doing group revision; getting quizzed by your friends is a lot less stressful than quizzing yourself and they will generally be kinder to you than you are to yourself. 
  2. Practise until you can’t go wrong. One of my teachers sayings is “An amateur practises until they get it right, a master practises until they can’t get it wrong.” This idea can make it feel a lot less stressful; if you look at how much practise you have done over the past years, chances are you have done so much practise that you cannot go wrong; you know what you’re doing! I don’t know if this will help everyone but for me knowing that it was statistically more likely to go right than wrong really helped me relax. 
  3. Power pose! As silly as it sounds, power posing genuinely does make you feel more confident and I found that when I needed a last minute way to relax I power posed, focussed on my breathing and remembered that “I’ve got this”

A key message from the girls was the importance of taking a break. Keeping mentally and physically healthy at stressful times can make all the difference, so eat well, stay hydrated and take some time for relaxing and socialising.

Ellie agrees, telling us

During exam season I always struggled with knowing how much studying was enough as I always found I was pushing myself to do more. I think good advice which I used a lot was that the right amount of work to do is as much as you can whilst still staying physically and mentally healthy (including having time for activities that do this) so if I was stressing out too much (not sleeping etc) I knew I was doing too much.

And don't forget, guiding can help you handle the pressure. Emma's advice was:

I think it’s really important to keep up with extra curriculars such as guiding during exam season. ‘Losing’ an hour and a half of revision is absolutely not the end of the world, but spending an hour and a half with amazing people and being distracted from whatever pressure you feel is a brilliant remedy!

If you’re worried about the stress that you see a young person going through, Abi told us it’s helpful if adults keep their cool, provide an escape from the stress and be careful not to create even more anxiety:

Feel confident that they probably know what they’re doing and act relaxed yourself. Rather than nagging them, talk to them about other topics so that you are more like a safe haven they can relax with than a source of stress for them. With exams, they will know how important they are, they just need help feeling relaxed.

Girls and young women can learn more about improving their wellbeing and managing stress through the Girlguiding programme – there’s interest badges on Mindfulness and Self-care and the chance for them to talk resilience with girls their age in our Think Resilient peer education sessions.