When preparing for a challenging certification or designation exam, it’s natural to feel overwhelmed by the amount of learning and studying you need to do. You’re working hard and you have a lot on your plate. If you’re like so many of our students, you’re trying to balance a full-time job, a personal life, and study for a complex, difficult exam. Stress and anxiety are common, but you can keep them at bay by following these tips to maintain balance and relaxation.

#1 Stick to a Schedule

When you have a big goal to conquer like studying for tough exam, it’s imperative that you schedule your knowledge goals to keep yourself accountable and give your brain time to make the cognitive connections it needs to commit information to memory. Set a regular time each day for study and then maintain that schedule until the examination date. Studying each day for an hour or two is better than trying to study all weekend long. Most experts agree that studying for longer than 4 hours at a time is inefficient. Approach studying like a marathon, not a high-speed race.

#2 Reward Yourself

It’s important to stick to a study schedule, but did you know it’s also important to schedule time to treat yourself? If you don’t take a moment to reward yourself for your hard work, you’re more likely to burn out. If you schedule 2 hours to study on Sunday afternoon, be sure to schedule an hour to get an ice cream cone with your kids, watch the football game with your buddies, or go on a hike with your significant other. Make time for yourself and the people you love. Studies show that people are more productive when they plan meaningful rewards for themselves.

#3 Fuel Your Body The Right Way

When you’re trying to balance a hectic schedule and make time to study, you may feel like you need an extra boost to keep going. Many students rely too heavily on caffeine, sugar, and fast food – with short-term gains and long-term losses. That third cup of coffee or late night energy drink may keep you awake long enough to read one more chapter, but you aren’t doing your body any favors. Give your body the fuel it needs and stock up on healthy brain foods like blueberries, greens, complex carbohydrates, and salmon. It’s okay to indulge and have a treat now and then, but don’t make sugary foods a habit. Take the time to plan your meals for the day, consider starting your morning with a healthy smoothie, and drink plenty of water.

#4 Practice Relaxation

Everyone relaxes in their own way. Some folks swear by yoga or a long walk, others might feel recharged by spending 30 minutes watching their favorite television program. Find an activity or practice that brings you peace and schedule time to enjoy it, no matter how busy you are. Even a 10 minute meditation, a good conversation with a friend, or a short jog can make all the difference in the world when you’re feeling stressed out and worn down. Your mental, physical, and emotional health are always your most valuable resources – so take good care of them.

#5 Get Moving

Whether you’re at your job, in class, in your car, or studying for an exam, you’re probably sitting. Break the habit and get moving! You don’t need to sign up for a marathon, but even the most dedicated couch potato can make simple changes to increase physical activity. Read a review chapter standing up and schedule at least 5-10 minutes per hour of seated activity to walk around and stretch your legs. If you have the time and means to do so, try a new type of fitness class with a friend. If that’s not your style, surf the web for free exercise videos and try a short routine to get your heart rate up. Hitting the gym or just taking a walk around your neighborhood can improve your health and your focus.

#6 Ask For Help When You Need It

Too often in life, we feel like we need to “tough out” difficult situations on our own. This mindset can lead to self-isolation and cause you more difficulty than you were experiencing in the first place. Remember that you’re not in this alone. If you’re stumped on a question or feeling overwhelmed by challenging study material, you can always ask one of our instructors for help. Your success is our top priority, and your well-being absolutely influences your ability to prepare for an exam and your career. If you’re overwhelmed by anxiety, reach out to trusted friend, partner, counselor, physician, or faith leader to talk it over. There’s no shame in suffering, and no sense in suffering in silence. Never be afraid to ask for the help you need.