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When feeling the pressure of those exams just around the corner now, here’s something which will help.

It’s that time of the year again:
Having worked to the bone for weeks, months, maybe even years the only feelings about the impending exams is dread. Right?
Here’s the thing though – it’s perfectly normal!

When we are about to be put to the test like this, there is an enormous fear of failure so it’s perfectly understandable to feel scared. Remember that our bodies are programmed to sense threat and danger, and as it perceives these challenges, it kicks off mental, physical and behavioral changes as if it is actually under real threat. These responses can include racing heart, racing mind, sweaty palms, and feelings of panic. But the important thing is to reframe or consider this experience now against the reality of the possible real consequences and move into a more constructive way of thinking.

Firstly, there is no actual physical threat present right now. It is the fear of failure, or the perception of the implications of what is perceived as failure, that is triggering this response. Understanding the source of this somatic (bodily) response can go a long way towards easing the sense of rising panic currently being felt, so take this fully on board.

Secondly, is this fear actually as great as the current perception of it?
What actually is the fear around this? – maybe write it down any thoughts about this fear. Now, take a few moments to consider a rational response to all of these thoughts.  For example consider past experience of exams – maybe they previously went better than you thought at the time or beforehand? Also, what are the other options if it doesn’t work out as hoped? Is a resit possible for example? Is an additional module on this course an option? If the preparation for these exams hasn’t gone as wished for now, maybe there are other options open to select a different or another course?
Remember that there are almost always other options or choices available.
The process of systematically going through each negative thought and addressing them in a logical way will reduce the intensity of the anxiety being felt.

Some of us are prone to more negative thinking than others and it is good to recognise this if it rings true. Self belief is a very important factor in success and when faced with a challenge we very often forget to look behind us and at all that we have accomplished already. It is good to remind ourselves of our own unique ability and capability and have faith in ourselves and always think positively about the future.

Here are some other useful things that will help through this difficult and challenging period.

Practice Mindfulness

It has been proven that just a few minutes of mindfulness practice each day helps students to remain calm and helps sustain their attention and ability to focus. Mindfulness does this by bringing a focus away from distracting thoughts and ideas and into the present moment through a focus on our breathing.

Here is a simple exercise to practice at the start of each day’s study or also as a break during your study time.

-Sit into a straight-backed chair with your feet planted firmly on the floor or if you prefer sit cross-legged on the floor.

-Bring a focus to your breathing by paying attention to the flow of air in and out of your nostrils or mouth or by the rising and falling of your belly as you inhale and exhale.

-Your mind will wander onto thoughts, what you need to do next, what you did yesterday etc, but as it does gently let each thought go without any judgement, and draw your mind back to your body and bring your focus back to just breathing in and out. Feel your own body in the chair or on the floor, and bit by bit a sense of calm will settle over you.

You may only be able to do this for 5 or 10 minutes and that’s okay as you will benefit from it anyway. It is also very good to do this at the end of the day as a preparation for relaxation and sleep.

Look after your body

Sounds easy and there’s so much to do already but it is important to pay attention to this now, just as at any other time.

Your body is where you live so be sure to look after it if especially when it’s under exam stress. Try to pick healthy snacks, and eat well. Tempting as it is, don’t overdo your caffeine intake as in itself it can cause anxiety and create difficulty with sleeping .

Get 8 hours sleep at night (preferably at night rather than study all night and sleep all day). Sleep restores our bodies and minds and helps it prepare for the next day’s work.

Get some Exercise

Exercise is a great stress reliever and can help lift our mood. Even a 20 minute walk will benefit your body and give a well earned break from the books.

Be Realistic about your Goals

Don’t set unrealistic expectations for yourself. It will lead to frustration and disappointment. Plan carefully what is achievable and stick to it. This will give you a feeling of progress, that you are accomplishing what you want and create a feeling in yourself of capability and success.

And if you do have a bad day or have to take a day out, don’t punish yourself or lose heart. Stay positive, forget about it and move on.

Don’t Go It Alone

Make sure you have some support for yourself. This might come from your classmates in the form of studying together at the library maybe, or come from your family and friends. Support at this time can be invaluable and make you feel less alone with your task and little kindnesses like a snack or a cup of tea at the right time can hit the spot and make you feel loved and cared about.

Get some Downtime

Keep a balance between staying on track with your work schedule but build in some time for friends or to watch a movie, go out and socialise or simply take a nice relaxing bath. It will also give you something nice to look forward to as a break from your hard work.

And Most of all remember that This Will Pass

So often there is so much stress at the time and just 3 months later you will hardly remember what it was all about. You are so much more than your exam results and they are just a stepping stone along the way of your life and the picture is much bigger than how it looks right now.


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