Reducing exam stress
Exam stress comes in all shapes and forms, from the students who just lose focus and can’t remember answers to the student that throws the chair across the room and then there are the students that just don’t turn up. Whatever your level of stress and anxiety, there is help available.
What are the symptoms of exam stress?
These are the classic anxiety symptoms such as a racing heart, sweating, shaking, palpitations, difficulty sleeping, an uncomfortable stomach, headaches and a dry mouth. In extreme cases, a student can experience a full panic attach with chest pains and problems breathing, even wondering if they are about to die.
Students often feel fear, embarrassed that their behaviour is noticeable, guilt over their inability to perform and anger at the pressure that is put on them. Many students feel they go blank in the exam unable to understand and absorb the questions and unable to remember the answers. They often feel overwhelmed.
As a result of the physical symptoms and the emotions, many students begin to practice avoidance behaviours, avoiding thinking about the exams, avoiding preparing for the exam, and in extreme cases avoiding the actual exam. These behaviours can be noticed in the form of procrastination in the months running up to the exam and in distraction techniques. “Shall I revise or get on the play station for a few hours.” As the exam gets closer the guilt and fear kicks in more as the student realises, they have not prepared and are not ready for the exam and they begin to increase the avoidance behaviours. For many these peaks just a week or 2 before the exam with a mad revision spree, whereas for others it is the last minute the night before the exam.
What to do before the exam
- Avoid caffeine, this disturbs sleep and increases your heart rate.
- Visualise your success every morning, imagine opening your results, how you will feel and then visualise yourself doing a little preparation every day.
- Plan a revision schedule.
- Meditation can help.
- Eat foods that release energy slowly, avoid sugar highs and lows.
- Find ways to relax before bed, have a bath, read a book, chat to a friend, avoid screens.
- Exercise regularly, this will burn off the nervous energy, hormones and chemicals produced in your body.
On the day of the exam
- Have a light breakfast.
- Drink water and take some with you in a clear plastic bottle without a label.
- Do not last minute cram, do something to relax instead, maybe go for a walk.
- Use a breathing technique – breath in through your nose for four and out for eight, this will slow your heartbeat and breathing.
- While waiting for the exam to start, visualise yourself successfully checking through the exam at the end and closing the paper, congratulating yourself. Imagine telling someone afterwards how easy it was, how the information just came to you.
How can hypnotherapy help with exam stress?
The way you feel and behave in an exam is based on the prediction pattern you have developed from past exam and test experiences. As children are now under pressure and assessed from such an early age, this gives plenty of opportunity to establish previous patterns of worry, stress and anxiety. Your unconscious mind now expects you to feel anxious and so you do.
Using hypnosis, we can reduce the emotions attached to previous experiences and anchor in feeling calm and in control to a physical behaviour such as taking a deep breath in and pressing a finger and thumb together. When you begin to feel challenged you can call up the new resource by repeating the behaviour. Additionally, you can change your unconscious expectation by visualising the way in which you want to react in the exam.
The unconscious mind does not differentiate between imagination and reality and treats the imagined “perfect exam” as a memory to base future behaviours on. Whilst in trance the unconscious mind also becomes more accessible to direct suggestions such as “you will remain calm and focused”. Most hypnotherapists will also share with you other techniques to calm anxiety and block negative thoughts.
If you are just looking to perform better, avoiding procrastination, hypnotherapy can also help with this.
If you are suffering from extreme exam stress, talk to your educational establishment. Many can make adjustments for you, extra time, exams in smaller rooms, and even supervised at home in extreme cases. You may need medical evidence to back up your case so get your doctor on board.
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