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Psychologist’s advice: 8 tips how to deal with exam stress

Psychologist’s advice: 8 tips how to deal with exam stress
Last year at high school? Already a student? Anxiety is the least of the problems that exams can cause. It is quite often that before exams people experience high levels of stress and negative consequences caused by it.  A little bit of stress can be a good thing as it motivates us to focus and react quickly, solve problems, overcome challenges, and sometimes to master new information. But high levels of stress can be harmful: it causes unpleasant feelings, pain, undermines our self-confidence, it becomes harder to focus and complete our tasks. You should not give in to stress or be afraid of it. There are methods to help to manage your stress. So what should you do to reduce the pressure during difficult times? Vilnius Gediminas Technical University’s (VGTU) psychologist Gintė Gudzevičiūtė talks about several stress reduction methods. You might find some of them helpful.

1. Plan. Stress distracts us and it’s hard to focus. We know that something must be done, but we do not have a plan how to implement it. Break each task into small steps. It can help you to calm down, to use your time more efficiently and achieve your goals.

2. Begin from the things you know best. When our self-confidence is low it seems that we do not know where to start. Begin from things you know best or the ones that are the most interesting, or from something you have done before. After the first task is completed your self-confidence will increase and you will feel ready to tackle more complicated ones.

3. Slow down your “what if” thoughts. Often, when we are under stress, we are worried about scenarios which in the end do not come true. For example, we think what will happen if I get a bad mark? What if I fail an exam? Will I have to pay for my studies? What will my parents think? Will I have to work more? One “what if” thought leads to the whole sequence of similar thoughts that forecast us an unsatisfying ending. These thoughts can lead us to an illusion that “if I worry a lot I might avoid trouble”. But, actually, they do not help. Instead, they create more stress and anxiety.  

4. Short and frequent breaks. Do you feel that unpleasant thoughts and feelings are creeping in while you work on something? Take a short break immediately: stretch, breathe deeply, look around. Need more? Take 3, 5, or 10-minute break, but not longer. You do not need long breaks, because more rest might not give you the needed feeling of relaxation. Breaks of several hours might help you rest, but, definitely, they will not reduce the level of stress. You might end up thinking how much you could have done during this time instead. In other words, procrastination is the best friend of stress. 

5. Use your imagination. Think about a place where you feel calm, safe and warm. It could be beach on a warm summer day or a green meadow in the countryside… Close your eyes and try picturing that place the best you can. Focus on what you see, smell and hear. Stay there for a few minutes. 

6. “Not to do” list. When you’ve got a lot on your shoulders, you might feel that you have to focus on all tasks at once. Then you start switching from one task to another, and, finally, stress takes over completely. Sometimes you need a “not to do” list: decide what you won’t be doing today and focus your time and effort on the most important tasks. 

7. Take care of yourself. Would you send warriors to battle if you knew that they did not sleep well, ate unhealthy food and barely moved from sofa during the recent days? The latter applies in the same way to you. If you have “battles to win”, you have to prepare your body for it. It is no secret that good exercise, balanced diet, and sufficient number of hours of sleep makes us stronger, sharper, and reduces stress. 

8. Remember why you are doing this. Why do you try so hard? Why are you anxious? Identify what creates the most of the stress: fear of failure, assessment and mark? Maybe you are worried what your family will think? Are you comparing yourself with others? Do you have fear of disappointment?  This type of thoughts motives us to try harder, but also they create higher levels of stress than we need. Try answering yourself why do you need this, how it can be useful in the future: maybe you try because you want to gain new knowledge or skills, maybe you like the learning material, maybe this knowledge will be helpful in the future? If we find an answer to what inspires us to try harder, we might change the way we feel about the preparation process and reduce the stress levels that we experience.

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    • Vilma Purienė
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    • Justė Kareivaitė