More tips on coping with exam stress

Exams are stressful, even for people who have worked hard consistently throughout the year. Psychiatrist Dr Michael Simpson gives advice and tips on coping with examination stress.

A modest amount of stress and anxiety can provide valuable stimulus that gets us to study and prepare, otherwise we might not bother to put in our best effort, according to Simpson.

Exams are one of the most stressful of experiences we routinely endure and inflict on others.

The issues we explore should also be useful to our regulars if you, or members of your family, are facing exams, job assessments, job interviews, and similar ordeals.

We'll be looking at some key aspects of coping with the stress of the exams already upon us.

1. Firstly, not all stress is bad for us - the trick is to get the dose right. If you find exams to be relaxing, or pure pleasure, then you must be missing something here! A modest amount of stress and anxiety can provide valuable stimulus that gets us to study and prepare, otherwise we might not bother to put in our best effort. Anxiety is normal. The exam results are important to you, and not entirely predictable - anyone can be anxious about that. But you don't need to become so anxious that you're crippled by fear. You need to control the anxiety, and not let it control you. You're the boss, even if it doesn't feel like it.

2. We don't like being in situations where we can't entirely control what happens, especially when the result really matters to us. One important response is to decide to control what you can control, and not waste time getting worked up over the elements that you can't control.

3. Above all, try to avoid getting anxious about getting anxious. Otherwise, you can set up a feedback loop. What's that? If a microphone accidentally points at a loudspeaker, small sounds get whipped back and forth, amplified each time, ending in an ear-splitting screech. In other words, don't make your own natural anxiety such a big deal that it frightens you.

Sometimes anxiety needs to be placed in quarantine. When seriously anxious people get together, they can act as an amplifier and get jointly more frightened. If you have friends who get very anxious, wish them well, but don't spend time with them as anxiety can be infectious. If you are blessed with friends who take things calmly, time spent with them may help you cool off, too.

4. It's well known that many people think that the use of drugs - both legal and illegal, prescription or street - can help when coping with stress. They are actually highly likely to damage your chances of success even in the short term. You shouldn't actually use anything, unless you have very specific kinds of stress problems.

Till then, good luck with the studying.

(Professor M.A. Simpson updated June 2010)

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