Exam Stress Busters

This week we are disrupting our usual blogging routine with a special feature for all our students writing Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate exams. We know that it can be a challenging, stressful time for teenagers and their parents, so we want to encourage you to take time for yourself to relax as well during these next few weeks. In today’s blog post, we have some tips on managing exam stress from one of our therapists who specialises in anxiety management. We hope you find these helpful and wish you all the best!

Junior and Leaving Certificate Exam Stress Busters

exam stress relief

Firstly, it’s good to recognise that some exam stress should be expected and indeed is vital for performance.  However, when this stress becomes overwhelming it can obviously be counter-productive and should be managed. Below you will find a number of techniques to help you manage your anxiety, so don’t forget to use them DAILY as often as you can throughout the day for maximum effect. It is important to keep the autonomic nervous system balanced as much as possible to inhibit the sympathetic nervous system from over-reacting.

Once you have instilled a relaxation routine into your life there are a few other things you should do – make sure you do them BEFORE and indeed DURING the exam period, for example;

Make sure you get a good night’s sleep before each of the exams.
DON’T arrive early or stop and talk to people before the exam as anxiety is contagious (trust me, I fell foul of this once!), You might be feeling ok and in control and then meet someone else who could be bricking it and before you know it you will be bricking it too!
Don’t forget the three golden rules for sitting any exam…

Read the question
Read the question
Read the question!!!

Especially note what you are being asked – like outline, compare, discuss, etc.
Pick your questions that you feel most confident about then stop and think for a minute and scribble down any reminders and your plan about how you are going to tackle it and remember your timing structure.
DON’T hang around after each exam to do post-mortems as this can shake your confidence for the next exam (and your mates could be wrong anyway).

For a quick release of stress that you could do either before or during the exam if you feel anxiety taking hold:

Breath OUT first (no that’s not a typo!) it’s really important to push all the breath out before you take an in-breath.
Then take in a slow, gentle breath – practice this over the next day or two by breathing in through a straw, this helps you to stop gulping in air – and hold it for a second.
Drop your shoulders – shake out your hands and relax your jaw.
Then slowly let this breath out.
Repeat as often as needed.
Keeping your breath slow and steady will help you concentrate and keep in control.

Alternatively:

Breathe in deep (from the diaphragm – remember to breathe from your belly and not your chest)
Say to yourself “Relaxed but alert”
Breathe out through your mouth say to yourself “calm body”
As you exhale, release the tension in your jaw – imagine the stress flowing out of your arms
At the same time, smile inwardly to yourself.

Before the exam you could try this two-minute body stress scan:

Interrupt your thoughts and switch your focus to your breathing.
Breathe out
Take 2 abdominal breaths, and exhale slowly.
Scan yourself for tense or uncomfortable areas.
Allow your muscles to feel heavy and warm.
Try to warm your hands momentarily (by imagining you are lying on a beach somewhere – though if we get the usual exam weather it won’t be too difficult to imagine).
Slowly do the following:
Rotate your head from side to side a few times.
Roll your shoulders forward and backward a few times.
Recall a pleasant thought, image, memory or feeling or somewhere you feel safe.
Hold it for a few seconds.
Take another deep breath and return to your activities.

Finally, drink plenty of water to keep you hydrated (again important for concentration) and remember it will all be over soon – as this too will pass!!

Sharron Grainger is a Psychologist and Psychotherapist with a special interest in anxiety management.

Phone: +353 1 2100 600
Fax: +353 1 278 9851
297 Beechwood Court
Stillorgan, Co Dublin