Six tips to help you handle post-exam blues

You've survived exam season. Now you have time to do whatever you want - so why are you feeling deflated?

Don't worry - you're not alone. During stressful periods of time, the brain produces a steroid hormone called cortisol. Cortisol is most famous for activating your brain during fight or flight, but is also responsible for regulating your blood pressure and sleep cycles. A little cortisol can be a good thing: it helps us produce adrenaline to keep going under stress. But once the source of stress - e.g. exam pressure - is removed, it can leave the body feeling worn out.

Quite simply, a dramatic change in routine can send us into a funk. It’s perfectly natural to feel lost, apathetic or sad after exams, and the best thing to do is acknowledge these feelings. Good habits such as exercise and healthy eating often go out the window when you're busy studying, on top of losing your free time - so having your freedom back can be surprisingly overwhelming. But don’t feel pressured to start socialising or summer job-hunting the second you leave the exam hall. Here are six tips to help you recover and handle those post-exam blues.

Repay your sleep debt

It’s time to give yourself a break, as your body and brain have been working hard non-stop. Sleep is the most important thing in maintaining a stable mood and a lack of it builds up as ‘sleep debt’, which can cause negative effects on our physical and mental health. A study from the University of Chicago concludes that lie ins and naps are okay to recover from short-term sleep loss (say, making up 10 hours of sleep debt over a week), but routined sleep is far better in the long run. Some researchers think that if you build up more than 20 hours of sleep debt, you may not be able fully reverse the effects of sleep deprivation in that period. So remember to get a routine back after pulling those all-nighters!

If you like to unwind by going out with your friends, that’s great - but rest too. Some people are more affected by routine change than others, so likewise, don’t pressure your friends to socialise if they need a longer recovery period than you.

A baby sleeping with a big smile on their face.
Take a leaf out of a baby's book and have an afternoon nap!

Make a change

To avoid the blues, it can be tempting to swap out the revision schedule for a work one - especially if you’re the type to keep busy. But our brains also crave variety, even if it’s minor. Try something new, take a trip or do something as simple as rearranging your room. Catching up on TV is fine, but avoid the pull of the binge-watching vortex. There’s a thin line between rest and boredom, and entering a different kind of slump won’t help you with whatever your plans are for after the summer. Be as adventurous or as relaxed as you like, but make sure to mix it up a bit.

A man in smart clothes skateboarding down an empty school corridor.
School's out! Teachers have to unwind too.

Clear your notes away as soon as possible

Refreshing your room-full-of-flashcards will make it feel like a revision-free zone again, and allow you to mentally recuperate. Waking up to a clean desk will remind your brain that you have nothing left to do and you won’t feel stressed about tidying up later on. Don’t hoard - chances are you’ll need to make room for the next lot of notes. Keep only what you need and recycle the rest.

Tip: reading a book that’s completely unrelated to your exam subjects can help ‘switch’ your brain off from study-mode.

Remember to celebrate!

It’s over! You finished. It’s important to acknowledge that. Be mindful of what you achieved: highlight what you did well rather than dwelling on what you can’t go back and change. Turning up to an exam is a victory, even if it wasn’t your best subject. All you can do is wait, so there's no use fretting over results - and no matter what happens, you deserve to relax and be proud of yourself for sitting your exams. Celebrate with a nice meal out, pick up the hobby you sacrificed to study or spend time with friends.

Take it easy - but still take it

In other words, don’t panic about what’s coming next, but don’t avoid thinking about it either. You don’t have to jump into a job or start A-Level readings immediately - everyone deserves to rest and enjoy their free time. It’s always good to have an idea of what you want to do, especially if there are application deadlines involved, but it’s more important to take care of yourself and wind down before starting the next big adventure. Remember: Rest, recover, THEN refresh before moving on.

Don’t worry if you didn’t do well!

Sometimes life gets in the way. It’s not all over if you flunked that GCSE exam or lost out on your top choice of uni - and you won't be the only one! Take a deep breath and recover before you do anything else. There are plenty of options to take next, and there’s no shame in resitting. It feels unfair when it seems like all your mates are going one way, but no two journeys are the same and your next course will be there when you’re ready to take it.

Practising self-care is incredibly important after finishing your exams. Remember to strike a balance between rest, play and work - now that you have some free time.

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