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Exam season stress? There’s an app for that

If you’re a teacher with a load of end-of-year pressures or a young person trying to keep on top of revision, exams and all the social whirl and big opportunities that come after, you may find it hard to grab some down-time.

So it’s a good moment to round up some of the apps that can help things go a bit more smoothly (for the next few weeks, at least).

It’s important to point out that an app on that little gadget in your pocket, handbag or man-bag is not going to help you combat serious stress, or banish the issues that can lead to depression. If you’re really struggling, you should get professional help and the NHS website is a good place to start.

(UPDATE 15/5/2015) The Guardian says exam stress is getting worse, and one Guardian blogger offers this advice: don’t ignore stress, and build some self-testing into your revision so your preparation is as good as it can be.
When it comes to getting organised, finding a little calm, seeking guidance on staying healthy, and so on, the app store of your choice is a great resource. Here are some of my favourites.

Calmness

Headspace

Founder Andy Puddicombe is a former Buddhist monk who wanted to make meditation more accessible to those who struggle coping with the stresses and strains of everyday life. He did this through the creation of free 10-minute meditation sessions and introductory courses that help promote better sleep, greater focus and a healthy mind. Emma Watson, Gwyneth Paltrow and the likes swear by its soothing ‘timeout’ sessions. It’s the perfect way to refresh and recuperate on a tight schedule.

Zenify

Being aware of ‘yourself’ and your surrounding environment gives you a greater appreciation of the present moment, removing worries / concerns of the past and future. Zenify encourages you to be more mindful and to focus on the ‘now’ rather than the ‘what if.’ At intervals throughout your day, Zenify will notify you of your next meditation technique to practice there and then, but it also teaches you how to be more mindful on your own terms.

Smiling Mind

This app was designed specifically for young users, but adults can benefit from it too. If you’re finding it hard to cope with the pressure of revision and need to blow off steam, this can help you get to grips with meditation, encouraging you to find calmness and contentment through web-based wellness programmes.

Breathe2Relax

Yes, sometimes taking a deep breath is the best thing. There’s a science to it, though, and this app has breathing exercises to help manage stress.

Wellbeing

The Mindfulness Diet (£1.49)

This provides quick, easy recipes that focus on texture as well as taste and nutritional value, thereby working the senses, and allowing you to appreciate every single bite. The app teaches you how to break bad habits and become a ‘mindful,’ not emotional, eater. Ideal for those of us who worry about our food and our weight and take comfort in junk food.

SleepBot

A good night’s sleep is essential for a good day’s productivity, concentration and achievement. This app tracks your sleep cycles, analyses and tracks your sleep patterns and quality, and has resources for getting to sleep and waking up.

MyHeartRate

This app that gives accurate biofeedback to help you self-monitor. It can also be used to practice breathing techniques to reduce stress symptoms and as a literal self-reflection, as it uses the camera on your mobile device. I trialled this app against a chest strap heart rate monitor during my PhD, and as long as you are in good light and position yourself in the camera frame, as instructed, it is very accurate.

Getting organised

YNAB ($60/free trial)

Money worries can drive you to distraction. This highly-rated software – YNAB stands for YouNeedABudget – doesn’t just keep track of your income and outgoings, it helps you plan and save. It has a steep price tag up front, but could lead you to make huge savings and gains in the future (YNAB claims its average user is $200 better off after just one month). The iOS and Android apps allow you to keep track of things on the go and are free, but the desktop software is also required.

MindMeister

When your head is brimming with things that need attention, projects you want to pursue, problems to be solved and a general jumble of ideas, it helps to capture them and visualise them. This mind-mapping tool gives you somewhere to start organising it all, which is essential if you want to stop stressing about it.

There are many, many more apps of this kind. Some people swear by white noise to help them relax, block out distractions and get to sleep, while others hate it and would rather have soothing chimes or soft music. Keeping a diary (whether in a dedicated app or on paper) can help you offload the day’s troubles – complete with photos from your phone – in a gentle way, rather than opening yourself up to the harshness of social media.

If you have apps that really work for you, please share them in the comments below.

Of course, that phone or tablet is full of updates from people who are somewhere warmer, eating something nicer or doing something more exciting than you. It’s got do-to lists telling you what you should be doing, messages needing replies, auctions finishing, games reminding you to play them, people’s birthdays that you really should write an HBD for…

You could put it down and go outside. You know, for a breath of fresh air.

Posted by Patrica Harris on Thu, 2 Feb 2017



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A graduate of Edinburgh Napier University, Patricia undertook her PhD research in the area of stress and retention of students within higher education. Patricia is currently the Outreach Academic Fellow for the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences at the University of East Anglia. This role involves raising the profile of healthcare careers and increasing the aspirations of university study within groups of students who typically have lower participation. University can be stressful and Patricia works with the Faculty to equip students with the skills they need to be stress resilient. Patricia is also involved in evaluating attrition and improving retention.

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