It is easy for students to get caught into a very negative stressful cycle coming up to exams. They frequently feel overwhelmed and under pressure to study relentlessly. Whilst some stress can be a positive thing, increasing motivation levels, too much can be detrimental and can cause some students to under-perform in exams due to the build up of anxiety and exhaustion.
The good news is there are measures that can be taken to stay calm and retain perspective throughout the exam period. Regular breaks and routine can help for example. As can asking for support and getting good sleep.
One relatively unknown factor in managing exam stress is the restorative effect nature can have on temperament, mood and concentration levels. Recent research indicates that reconnecting with nature helps relieve stress and can have a calming effect on both body and mind.
There are three main theories on how this connection with nature might work as a buffer to stress (Capaldi et al 2015). Studies show that the nature connection increases feelings of vitality and directly contributes to stress reduction and restoration. Attention Restoration Theory provides an additional explanation for nature’s link to wellbeing. This theory abounds that the elements in nature require little direct attention and so help us relax i.e looking at trees, grass, leaves, branches or clouds requires little focus and so restores our attention. Compare this to directed attention that kids studying engage in for long periods which can then lead to fatigue and distraction.
What these theories have in common is they all recognise a link between nature, enhanced wellbeing and personal fulfilment. Simply noticing nature and attending to nature in everyday routines can improve our mood and give us a sense of positive feelings of connection (Passmore & Holder, 2016).When people experience natural surroundings it expands their senses both psychologically and physiologically (Louv, 2005). This helps to reset their emotional state and has a calming impact. This has been evaluated using individuals self report and also using physiological measures such as cortisol levels and heart rate. Simply put being connected to nature routinely can help reduce anxiety, re-energise and give perspective to students.
Asking students to go outside for 15 minutes each day and notice different aspects of nature can really help to reduce stress levels. This simple intervention is free and requires little or no preparation just a willingness to try.
Capaldi, C. A., Passmore, H.-A., Nisbet, E. K., Zelenski, J. M., & Dopko, R. L. (2015). Flourishing in nature: A review of the benefits of connecting with nature and its application as a well being intervention. International Journal of Well being, 5(4), 1-16.
Passmore, H.-A., & Howell, A. J. (2014). Nature involvement increases hedonic and eudaimonic w ell-being: A two
-week experimental study. Ecopsychology, 6, 148-154.
Louv, R., (2005). Last child in the woods: Saving our children from Nature Deficit Disorder. Chapel Hill, NC:Algonquin.
About the Author
Moya is a clinical psychologist who trained both in Ireland and in the USA. With almost 20 years experience as a clinical psychologist, Dr. O’Brien has worked for many years in the area of special needs and continues to provide consultation to schools. She has taught on the MSc in Education and on the Career Guidance and Counselling course in the National University of Ireland in Maynooth. She is a Board Certified Behaviour Analyst. Her experience includes working in the May Institute Cape Cod and working in the Institute for Applied Behaviour Analysis in Los Angeles.
She was employed in the Irish Eastern Regional Health Authority as manager of the Parenting Unit before co-founding ICEP Europe. Moya’s current research interests include the application of ABA in both mainstream and special school settings and the implementation of school-wide policies for the support of students with special educational needs and/or challenging behaviour.
ICEP Europe is delighted to work with internationally recognised specialists in the fields of special and inclusive educational provision. Such additions to the ICEP team, provide a extensive range of expertise and talent to assist with course creation and support.