Exam time - don't panic!

I believe that most of us can relate to the stress involved in taking exams, and it is the lucky few who say that they enjoy the process (yes, they do exist). At this time of year schools and universities up and down the country are doing their best to support their students in practical ways - teaching them how to draw up revision timetables, advising on how to get a balance of work, rest and play, and even, in one university in Scotland, offering pet therapy sessions to take the edge off and calm them down. 

Sometimes the stress of exams is the thing that brings out other difficulties and issues in students. This could be anything from family problems, a recent bereavement, a fear of failing and letting down parents or being thought of as stupid by their friends. As stress levels build it can end up as a self-fulfilling prophecy and cause a panic and freeze reaction when sitting in front of a test paper that would normally be straightforward to manage. 

Parents and friends of stressed exam takers can help enormously by ensuring that they are there to listen to worries and woes, to encourage the over-studious ones to take a break, to help keep life in perspective, and, most importantly, to give the message that they are loved and valued unconditionally for who they are, not for a grade given in an exam. This is perhaps why pet therapy sessions have been found to be helpful – the dog does exactly that, loves them for who they are. 

The ultimate aim is to go into the exam room with a calm outlook, allow for some stress and let it pass, practice some slow breathing and keep the logical brain engaged. The old saying that you can only do your best applies here, and if you don’t have a dog, perhaps you could borrow one.

Useful reading for all stressful situations is a book called The Chimp Paradox by Dr Steve Peters, which explains, in plain English, how we can be hijacked by our emotions and how to manage them better.

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