Lifestyle

Test-stress and what to do about it

Summer break is so close you can see it, peeking over the mountain of exam-anxiety. Students often deal with stress in unhelpful ways such as by procrastinating and worrying.

“I think it’s important to put exams in perspective,” said Teri Lynn Olson, a counsellor at SAIT’s Student Development and Counselling Services.

According to Olson, de-stressing means managing anxiety around taking exams and test results.

People often think up worst case scenarios before writing an exam, and worry that because of one bad grade they won’t finish the course. Students often place too much importance on test grades, said Olson.

“A grade isn’t always an accurate reflection of what someone knows.”

Doing one’s best depends on the day, she stated. When one is sick, tired or dealing with other issues, one cannot expect to be at ones best. Doing one’s best is realistic, as long as it’s allowed to shift with circumstances.

“We can’t expect our best to be perfection.”

Make a game plan, write a study schedule and stick to it, said Olson.

Being prepared—not cramming the night before—is a major part of handling exam pressure.

Olson recommends scheduling downtime between studying and other responsibilities to stay balanced.

“Being overwhelmed is a state of mind.”

Students should prioritize and focus on the task in front of them to keep from becoming overwhelmed, said Olson.

“Worries are always future oriented, so ground yourself in the present. You can’t be grounded in the present and worried at the same time.”

For many students, exam anxiety is a battle with or without studying. Blanking on a question as the clock ticks is anything but easy, and Olson suggests a few strategies to stay grounded in the moment.

“The first thing to do is focus on breathing.”

Anxiety causes one to breathe shallow or hold one’s breathe.  Breathe in slowly—hold for a beat—breathe out slowly—hold for a beat. This slows breathing to six or seven breathes per minute.

Breathing slowly brings the heartrate down and stops the body from engaging in the “fight or flight” mode.

“It can be helpful to get out of your head,” explained Olson.

Another strategy is to notice five things in the room that are blue. Notice how your body feels in the chair—how your feet feel on the floor— how your arms feel on your desk, continued Olson.

It is important to get “out of your head into something outside of yourself that is very present.”

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