There are so many benefits to adopting a daily meditation practice, and it can be especially valuable at highly pressured times in our life, such as exam time. Today, I’m delighted to welcome back my special guest blogger, Holly Ashby from Will Williams Meditation who is going to explain all.
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As we head firmly into Spring, teenagers and young people up and down the country are preparing for some pretty daunting exams. We all face moments in life where our performance is assessed and our capabilities appraised, and whether it’s in school or at work stress can get the better of us. So how do you make sure your nerves don’t become overwhelming and you have the focus, and confidence, to do the best you can?
Organisation, preparation and practice are of course going to be essential, but one unexpected way to sharpen up your skills is meditation. It may seem counterintuitive to pour time into a new habit when you have lots of studying to do, but dedicating twenty minutes a day to meditation will go a long way in reducing anxiety and stress, and may well improve results. There’s lots of different kinds of meditation, from mantra based practices (like transcendental meditation) to more physical options like yoga, so it’s more than possible to find something that suits you.
Performance, Stress and Anxiety
Exam stress is something that can affect school children and university attendants profoundly. The UK charity Childline found in a survey that out of 1300 participants, 96% felt anxious about exams and revision, and 59% felt pressure from their parents to succeed. Furthermore, this performance anxiety isn’t exclusive to young people, with a presentation at work or (horror of horrors) public speaking engagement sending most people’s stress levels through the roof.
It’s no surprise that we get nervous in these situations. Contending with the pressure to show ourselves in the best possible light, as well as the fear of disappointing ourselves or others is always going to be difficult. Add the idea that our performance will be the key to a successful life and failure will be devastating, and we can place an enormous burden on our peace of mind.
How Meditation Helps
While a bit of nerves is to be expected (and even beneficial), getting overly stressed out over exams or work can be quite a horrible experience. Sometimes, it can even build to the point where it’s all you can think about. Unfortunately, this kind of stress can also have the knock-on effect of impairing our ability to concentrate and perform well. But whether you’re just a little bit apprehensive or hugely stressed out, meditation can help.
Less stress is one of the most well-publicised and well-researched benefits of meditation. It gives us a few moments out of the day-to-day, where there isn’t anything – from revision, to a buzzing smartphone, to ticking off to do lists – we have to think about. Apart from anything else, it gives us the excuse to have a short break and empty our mind, making sure we don’t exhaust ourselves with overwork. It’s a small act of self-care, and simply by committing to a meditative practice it shows an encouraging awareness of the importance of wellbeing.
Regular meditation over a surprisingly short period has a profound and quantifiable effect on our stress levels. It’s been shown to actually influence the structure of our brains, reducing the density of the amygdala (which controls the stress response) and building up the hippocampus, which is responsible for learning, cognition and memory. It’s also been shown to reduce the stress hormone cortisol (something that can cause a lot of health problems in excess) by up to a third – clear indications that meditation’s influence on the stress we feel isn’t simply imagined.
As a bonus, meditation can also improve focus, concentration and confidence. So not only will you be less stressed, you’ll be on the top of your game as well, ready to ace that exam or blow everyone away with an amazing performance.
Having a little more confidence is useful because it allows us to think more clearly, and have a sense of perspective. Of course, exams and other challenges are important, but there’s no reason why your whole life should hinge on a couple of hours, and whatever the results you can still achieve the things you aim for.
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