Rachel, Wellbeing Practitioner from the Counselling, Health & Wellbeing Service, talks about strategies for coping with exam anxiety… What is Exam Anxiety?
It is natural to feel anxious prior to an exam. In fact, a little anxiety can actually help performance. Anxiety and stress cause the body to release adrenalin which can be helpful when responding to challenging situations. Whilst being laid back has its advantages, being so laid back that you are horizontal can mean you are less motivated to do well!
However, too much adrenalin can lead you to feel distressed and hinder performance, therefore you need to be able to strike a balance between too little and too much anxiety. The purpose of this blog is to help you manage your anxiety and achieve an optimal level to promote alertness and performance. Firstly, does exam anxiety apply to you?
What can you do?
It is really important to look after yourself when you are feeling stressed and tired. An exhausted body and mind means that you are less able to tolerate the little stressors that we are faced with every day. Suddenly, dealing with that change to your timetable, a housemate using the last bit of milk or the teabags running out can feel like the end of the world! It is important that you:
- Make sure you rest!! Plan in breaks and re-energising activities
- Eat as well as you can, drink plenty of water and try to avoid too many caffeinated drinks
- Exercise to release built up tension
- Allow ‘guilt-free’ time for social, enjoyable and relaxing activities
Walk to Wellbeing
A new joint programme has been set up between Student Counselling, Health and Wellbeing and Cardiff University Sport to encourage people to walk to a better wellbeing. Wellbeing walks will take place every Wednesday at 2pm for approximately an hour. It’s a good opportunity to engage in some exercise, see the sights of Cardiff and make friends. If you want to join in, please head to the Students’ Union steps just before 2pm on a Wednesday to meet Sabrina, who runs the walks. The walks will be running until the end of May.
It is also too easy to put things off and tell yourself ‘I can do that tomorrow, there is plenty of time’. But, what if you don’t feel like it tomorrow? Sometimes being more prepared by starting revision early can mean that the information starts to sink in. It is also leaves less room to get overwhelmed when the work piles up.
Going to lectures/revising on the run up to your exams will help you feel more confident and help you mentally prepare for the exam. Remember- avoidance is only a temporary relief from stress and anxiety. The best long-term strategy is to tackle low motivation and anxiety by pushing yourself to do the things you have been putting off.
Regulate your Emotions
Take control of regulating your emotions by using strategies to alter your physical responses, for example, by changing your breathing and relaxing your muscles.
Change anxious breathing (shallow breathing) to diaphragm breathing
Breathing deeply into the diaphragm reduces blood pressure and heart rate and therefore also reduces our level of emotional arousal. To learn diaphragm breathing, try the following:
Lie down and breathe in through your nose for 5 seconds… pause for one to three seconds… then breathe out through your mouth for 7 seconds… pause again and repeat the process.
Progressive muscle relaxation is also very helpful for relieving the tension held in your muscles and helps both your body and mind to relax. Practice muscle relaxation during deep breathing. Focus on a particular muscle group (e.g., shoulders) and alternatively tense and relax the muscle. Focus on releasing all of the tension in the muscle, repeating ‘relax’ in your mind.
Challenge Negative Thoughts
Thoughts have a direct link to anxiety levels. Negative or catastrophic thinking regarding exams will increase anxiety- ‘If I fail I will get kicked off my course’, ‘If I do not do well then I will never be able to get a job’. Thoughts like ‘I can’t’ can be paralysing. What other ways could you talk to yourself that are more positive?? What about: ‘It will be difficult but I have managed exams in the past’. Try the following:
- STOP- and take a minute to notice what is going through your mind?
- Is that thought a fact? Do you know that is going to happen? What would a friend say about that?
- It is helpful to acknowledge the thought but then to let it fade out- like watching a train come in to a train station but then letting it leave without jumping on it!
- Try giving negative thoughts a new voice. Would that catastrophic thinking sound as scary if it was in the voice of Peter Griffin from Family Guy or Homer Simpson??
Please note that this blog only outlines a small number of strategies for managing exam stress.
Contacting Counselling Health & Wellbeing
If you are experiencing any kind of emotional distress, please do not hesitate to get in touch with us, we offer support to anybody experiencing any sort of difficulty, however big or small.
Bookable appointments are available via our online referral questionnaire, in which our friendly, approachable staff can offer you non-judgemental support in a safe and confidential space. We also offer a daily Wellbeing Walk-In Service Monday–Friday 3 – 3.45pm and Wednesday mornings 9.30 – 10.15am at the Student Support Centre at 50 Park Place. We also hold a walk-in services at Student Support Centre in the Heath on Wednesday afternoons 3 – 3.45pm.
Watch our video and see for yourself that we have friendly and approachable staff. Staff who are able to listen to you non-judgmentally, in a safe and confidential space.
If you are worried that you are experiencing physical symptoms that may be affecting your health, we strongly advise you to make a GP appointment to discuss this. If you do not already have a GP, please contact NHS Wales on 0845 46 47 or check out their website to view all of your GP options.
Rachel, Wellbeing Practitioner
Counselling, Health & Wellbeing Team
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