In our last Wednesday Wellbeing column, we talked about how stress isn’t all bad, even though it might feel awful when we’re staring down the barrel of exam time. Today, we’ll be exploring how having friends around can help you handle stress, and even make the most of it.



Stress is an essential part of our motivation, and has been making us get onto things ASAP since the caveman days. The fight-or-flight response kicks in when we’re feeling stressed ⁠— whether what’s stressing us out is the ferocious lion chasing us, or our Algebra mock exam. 



The fight-or-flight response is triggered by the release of stress hormones that course through our veins when we’re stressed.


This is why things like last-minute exam cram and speeches make us feel jittery it’s the effect of the chemicals. It’s hard to know how to chill and get on with study when we’re feeling anxious and stressed.




Last week, we met researcher Daniela Kaufman, who (with the help of some rats) found that moderate stress can be beneficial for learning and memory. Kaufman stresses that this depends on how you handle it — “people who feel resilient and confident that they can manage stress are much less likely to be overwhelmed by it—and more likely to have a healthy response—than people who think of stress as bad.”



So how do we make sure we feel resilient during stressful times? Well, Kaufman says that one way to be resilient is to have good friends or as she puts it “social support to buffer stress.” It might seem like what you need to do is lock yourself in your bedroom for the next few months to study alone, but this will make you feel more stressed. 



A stress response we hear less about is the ‘tend and befriend’ response to stress.


The tend and befriend stress response was identified by psychologist Kelly McGonigal – who realised that there were other stress coping mechanisms than fighting or flighting. She noticed that people were more resilient to their stress if they turned to friends and family for support.



Even if you haven’t heard of the ‘tend and befriend’ response to stress, you might have felt it.


You know how calming a good hug can be? A good hug makes you feel better because it releases a chemical called oxytocin – basically the opposite of all those stressy chemicals like cortisol. 



Oxytocin is the social chemical; it creates feelings of bonding, trust and empathy. It also makes us feel fear less strongly, meaning we can more confidently face challenges when surrounded by our friends. So it’s important not to lock yourself in a cupboard to study until November, unless your friends are squished in there with you.



You’ll feel less stressed if you tend-and-befriend through exams, rather than trying to fight-or-flight from them (neither fighting your exams or flight from them works, we promise).



Having friends and family around to support you will help you deal better with the stresses of the coming months – and if your friends also have exams, it’ll help them too. Social connection when you’re stressed can actually bring you closer to your friends than any number of after-school visits to the dairy, because more oxytocin will be released.



Ideas for social connection in exam time:


  • Take some time to vent. Stressed the heck out? So is everyone else, probably. Talk about it. Bonding over how much exams suck will help you feel better by releasing oxytocin. You might even get round to talking about forming a study group. 
  • Set up a study group. This doesn’t necessarily have to be a super formal group, it can just be you and a couple of friends getting together at home or a library to sit together and work. Bonus points if you study the same things and can help each other with problems. You’ll find it’s hard to be stressed when you’re all working together. 
  • Chill out sometimes. Meet up to do something fun and get your mind off study. You’ll find you come back to your desk refreshed and ready to learn. 
  • Join online Studytime communities. Regardless of whether your IRL friends are great study-buddies or not, online communities can be a great form of support. Our instagram and facebook are full of students supporting each other with study advice and laughing over memes together.



We’ll see you over on the Studytime facebook and instagram communities for your daily dose of stress resilience. Until next time!


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