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Are Suffering from Exam Anxiety or Exam Stress?

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February 20, 2019 0 5 minutes, 31 seconds read
Ashima Srivastava
Senior Consultant - Clinical Psychologist(Child & Adult), Developmental and Behavioural Therapist
Clinical Psychology, Mental Health And Behavioural Sciences

Exam stress or exam anxiety is something most students are familiar with. The butterflies you feel in your stomach right before you give an exam, the pressure to remember all that you have revised, the will to do the best that you possibly can- all are forms of exam anxiety. Exam anxiety can take two forms; one where it is a useful form of arousal that enables the student to perform better and the second where it takes over the student’s mind and body and disables him or her from attempting any questions correctly. Students face the psychological condition wherein a student feels such tremendous amounts of stress and pressure that he or she feels unable to perform on the exam. This type of exam stress is much more common than one would think. There are a number of physical, cognitive and emotional indicators that point towards debilitating exam anxiety that are exhibited in the days where exams are being prepared for or taken:

  1. Physical symptoms include sweaty palms, fainting, breathlessness, lightheadedness shakiness, and rapid heartbeat. In some cases, psychogenic physiological pain/illness may be present. 
  2. Cognitive symptoms are those that have to do with the thought process. It is obvious that such tremendous amounts of anxiety will lead to negative thoughts, however, these negative thoughts can also turn into negative beliefs about oneself and have an impact on the student’s behavior. 
  3. Emotional indicators such as excessive crying and short temperedness. This can be accompanied by feelings of helplessness, hopelessness in trying to escape or change their situation. 

These are the basic soft indicators that parents and friends should make a note of and deal with immediately if noticed. “Anxiety is a thief. It steals your thoughts. It steals your sleep. It steals your confidence. It steals your performance skill.”A good support system can be extremely beneficial for a student to overcome this “thief” and come out of a stressful situation thriving and in control.

There are a number of ways this can be done; some tips are as follows:

  1. Relaxation Techniques: “You’re not going to master the rest of your life in one day. Just relax. Master the day. Then just keep doing that every day.”Slowly breathing in and out and relaxing your body and mind has been scientifically proven to combat feelings of anxiousness and boost concentration and happiness. Be mindful of letting the anxiety leave you. Practice distraction and deep breathing to challenge your negative thoughts.
  2. Effective Time Management: Using precious time right before exams start is the key to make or break exam performance. Time must be optimally divided between all topics and subjects and appropriate breaks MUST be allotted in between to enhance concentration. Merely sitting in front of open books all day is unhelpful and only adds to feelings of anxiousness. A proper, planned time table is a must during preparation days. Follow this saying- “Do it once, do it right. Get it over with!” Study with full concentration during the allocated time, so you don’t have to go back again and again to revise it.
  3. Study Skills and Learning Styles: It is imperative to find suitable study skills and learning styles that suit the child. Study skills include listing, mnemonics, mind maps and note taking. Learning styles are the ways in which different individuals learn best, by visual aids, auditory aids, reading/writing aids or kinesthetic aids. Every individual has a particular learning style and it is very beneficial to find out which as it can make the learning process more fun and informative.
  4. Family Time: During exam time, it is important to set aside some time to spend together as a family. Having a meal together, or just catching up for half an hour in a relaxed mood, can do wonders to destress the child. Give a listening ear to the anxiety the child has and give a positive solution.
  5. Don’t Compare: Comparing your child, his/her style of learning or how much time he/she spends in front of books with any other child is not only unhelpful but can also be damaging for their self-esteem. It is very important to recognize the fact that every student is different and studies differently. Unnecessary comparison only adds to stress and makes studying a burden. As the famous quotes go, “Prove yourself to yourself, not to others.”
  6. Positive Affirmations: It is extremely important for students to inculcate confidence in themselves. Positive affirmations are an excellent way to do this. “I am a do-er. I will take action and get things accomplished.”I am energized and ready to slay the day!”I believe in myself and my ability to succeed.”I believe I can achieve all that I want if I focus my energy in the right places.” These are some affirmations that students should believe in and repeat to feel energized and confident about their performance on an exam. Here are certain affirmations you can read them aloud before an exam.
    -> I am positive about the upcoming exam.
    -> I know I can do it no matter how difficult it becomes.
    -> Every exam is an opportunity for me to show my knowledge.
    -> I am well prepared and I am confident I can perform better.
  7. Seeking Professional Help: There is absolutely nothing wrong with seeking professional help if you feel the anxiety is being fulfilled by all the above criteria and is getting difficult to handle. Consulting a mental health professional will be in the student’s best interest and help him or her work through the anxiety and come out a much better learner and performer. 

As parents, it is important to remember that nothing is more important than your child’s well- being. The atmosphere around the house must be stress-free and free from any unnecessary pressures. Successes, failures, stress, and performance are all life skills that your child needs to develop to be a fully functioning member of society. It is all part of the process and important to teach the child the necessary life lessons. 

Finally, as a mental health professional in the field for the past many years, I can assure you, it is imperative to understand a student’s mental health is never something to be ignored and there is no exam or test that can be more important than their psychological well-being! Always remember: “Our anxiety does not come from thinking about the future, but from irrational fears.”Keep up your faith, keep working hard, be confident and with a positive mindset, you would definitely achieve it.

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