It’s pretty fair to say that this is a stressful time of year for any 16 or 18 year old in the UK. Luckily there are a number of strategies students can use to alleviate some of their pent up (or not so pent up!) anxieties. We spoke to Elissa Levy, renowned Hertfordshire hypnotherapist, to ask her to give us some tips to pass on to you all to try to manage this challenging time with a positive, calm approach.
Sometimes, just those words alone can make us panic. Once you have read my top tips let’s hope that it won’t apply to you.
My analogy of exam stress:
Your mind is like………
….a pencil case that is bursting at the seam; the zip won’t close properly and you are still trying to shove more in. You never throw away the rubbish: the pencil that won’t sharpen anymore; the rubber that you don’t use because you have replaced it a couple of times; you add pens but never throw any away; the pencil shavings; the thick clumpy Tip-Ex…does that sound like your mind? (work, school, college, friends, revision, parents, everyday demands)
You are so busy filling up your pencil case worrying and overthinking the ‘what ifs’, that you are not using your pencils properly.
So, it’s time to empty your pencil case and only use what you need.
- Practise breathing: Put your hand out take a deep breath in and draw in the air a line starting at the bottom and drawing up to the sky as you count 4, then draw down as you exhale, counting 4, repeat these 5 times. It’s a good habit to get into first thing in the morning. Associate it with a happy memory (holiday, celebration, a happy time). When you have practised this, you should be able to breathe in and the memory should pop into your head, you won’t even need to do the drawing in the air. (that is just to make you concentrate).
- Clear your mind and pick up an object from your pencil case (pencil, eraser, ruler etc). Don’t think about anything else; focus on your object. Feel its texture, run your hands over it. Just focus on the here and now, the object. Roll it in your palm, feel the smoothness, notice the temperature, just spend a couple of minutes clearing your mind. These are objects you can have in the exam with you, and if you have practised this enough you will be able to bring yourself back to this calm state.
- It’s ok to be a little stressed/worried/fearful, it helps you perform well. However, if it’s keeping you awake and your negative thoughts are stopping you from reaching your full potential, you must talk about it. Share your feelings with your parents, teachers or friends.
- Eat a good healthy breakfast; keep away from fried or spicy foods, hydrate your body, take a brisk walk. It’s important to look after yourself both physically and emotionally.
- Sleep! It is important to sleep and relax your body giving it time to replenish from the day. However, there is no point going to bed and trying to sleep and then stressing if you can’t. The day before your exam you should get up early, do your studying, take some exercise to releases endorphins. Have a good healthy supper, a relaxing bath, and try to leave all tablets, phones etc out of your room. Go to bed at a sensible realistic time; you don’t want to be lying in bed overthinking, you want to snuggle into your covers and have a good sleep. It’s helpful to have a notebook by your bed to jot down anything that comes into your mind that you need to remember – once you have written it down you can let go of it!
- When you wake the morning of exams, do your breathing and think of your nice memory; breath and relax. Focus your thoughts on that feeling of what you can do and what you do know. Exams don’t define you; you are more interesting and important than a grade. However, you have to perform to the best of your ability and as long as you can say that you honestly have, then that is perfect.
- When you get to the exam line up, block all negative thoughts, do some of your breathing, keep away from those people who have not revised, (you know the ones: “OMG I can’t do it, I can’t remember anything” etc). KEEP AWAY! This is about you and only you.
- During the exam? Lots of ‘mindful’ approaches:
- Read all the questions first. This wakes up all the answers you have stored in your subconscious mind. They start making their way forward and once you have read through you can then answer the questions, leaving out any you can’t do at that moment. This makes sure you answer the ones you are sure of and then you fill in the others at the end.
- Read the first question twice then answer, then move on to the next. Any you can’t answer at that time move to the next, and then when you have answered all the questions, you can go back and by then your pencil case will have emptied and you will be able to access the information easier.
Just imagine it’s the morning of Results Day; imagine that feeling – knowing you have tried your best and getting the results you deserve.
These are just a few tips that should help you to stay calm, focused and be able to perform well on the day. Take your time, read and digest them but don’t stress – give yourself the space to be able to practise the techniques and you will see positive results.
If you’d like to discuss any of these with me, I’d love to hear from you and I’d be happy to help!