Exam Anxiety & Staying Cool Under Pressure

If you happened to read the last article titled ‘Exam Anxiety’, you might now be aware of some factors that play into exam anxiety and some potential ways of coping with that anxiety, and staying as cool as a pineapple in those stressful situations.

As mentioned previously, for direct anxiety management deep breathing, positive self-talk, and progressive muscle relaxation can assist in bringing the body’s heightened physiological and psychological states back to a healthy level.

The important thing with any coping tool is to make sure it is implemented properly and purposefully. For this to be done, it will help to have more information on how to effectively use some of these techniques. This paper will tell you exactly what these three techniques are and how they help manage anxiety.

Deep Breathing: This is one of the most commonly mentioned methods of reducing anxiety, but the key to this technique is understanding the purpose behind it. When your fight-or-flight response is triggered, respiratory rate increases and your breathing becomes shallow. If you can take longer, slower, deeper breaths, you can actually convince your body that there is no reason to activate the flight-or-fight response, and the body will return to a more relaxed state. At the same time, deep breathing also acts as a good distraction. By putting your focus into breathing, less energy will be consumed by worry and stress.

Steps to Deep Breathing:

  1. Try to relax your body in a comfortable position and begin to focus on your breathing.
  2. Take a deep breath in through your mouth and slowly count to 3 or until your lung are fully expanded.
  3. Hold the breath in for a moment, and then slowly begin to release it through the nose for a count of 4.
  4. When the breath is fully released, feel the tension release from the body and then repeat the steps until a relaxed state is achieved.

Progressive Muscle relaxation: When feeling anxious the body becomes more tense, but the more tense you become the harder it becomes to achieve a relaxed state. The purpose of progressive muscle relaxation is to relieve tension throughout the body so that a relaxed state is attainable with the purpose of regulating anxiety levels. This method is accomplished through a two-step process by first consciously tensing particular areas of the body and then releasing that tension and fully relaxing the targeted area.

Steps to Progressive Muscle Relaxation:

  1. Find a comfortable position preferably either sitting or standing.
  2. Remember to start with the top of your body and work your way down focusing on the areas where you carry the most tension i.e. the shoulders and neck.
  3. Pick a target area, and as you take in a deep breath consciously tense the area, feeling the muscles full tighten.
  4. Hold the tension for five seconds
  5. Slowly begin to relax the area as you breathe out until the muscles become fully relaxed.
  6. When the area is fully relaxed, pick a new target area and work your way down until every part of your body is relaxed.

For more detail on Progressive Muscle Relaxation and how to tense particular areas go to: https://www.anxietybc.com/sites/default/files/MuscleRelaxation.pdf

Positive Self-talk: Individuals are constantly conversing with themselves through their thoughts, and this private ongoing dialogue is known as self-talk. Most people are not always aware of what they are saying privately to themselves, and some people have no idea how much of a role our own thoughts play in determining our self-esteem and confidence. While these thought may seem entirely out of your control, the truth is you have full control of what you say and believe about yourself. In fact, often thoughts determine behaviour. If you tell yourself you will ace an exam, you are more likely to do the things that are necessary to succeed. If, however, you are convinced you will do poorly, then the level of effort you put in to preparing for an exam will be dramatically reduced. The best way to switch your negative self-talk to be more positive is to first be aware of what you are saying to yourself.

Steps to more positive self-talk:

  1. Acknowledge your self-talk, and be aware of what you are saying to yourself during your internal dialogue.
  2. Consciously try to put your energy into creating statements that are positive and complementary.
  3. If you notice your thoughts becoming more negative try to recognise what triggered the negativity. (While it is important to recognise the source of your negativity, still try to spend as little time on the thought as possible.)
  4. Stop the negative thought. You can literally say “stop” or just acknowledge that the thought is not productive and is only inhibiting your ability to succeed.
  5. Replace the negative thought with something more productive and positive. If you start questioning your capability in a situation, be proactive and come up with solutions that you can better prepare yourself.
  6. Train your thoughts. The more often you say or hear something, the more likely you are to believe it. Even if you do not believe you are capable, tell yourself you are and eventually you might convince yourself.

Hopefully these techniques will help you stay relaxed and confident as you progress through the last few weeks of classes.