Tag Archives: relaxation

How to Deal with Exam Anxiety

Exam anxiety is a real and legitimate problem that can affect a person’s academic performance. There are however certain skills you can learn to assist with managing exam anxiety.

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Causes:

There are numerous causes for exam anxiety:

  • Poor study skills – Some students do not know how to effectively study for an exam, as a result they feel under prepared and so experience anxiety. Whilst others think they know how to study but are in fact using inadequate methods.
  • Negative self-talk – These are often students who have done badly in previous exams or who dislike sitting for exams and so convince themselves that they will do poorly. The self-doubt makes it difficult for them to concentrate before and even during the exam.
  • The perfectionist – For some students anything less than a distinction is deemed a failure, thus placing exaggerated and unnecessary pressure on themselves.

Symptoms:

Physical symptoms include –

  • tense muscles
  • sweating
  • rapid heart rate
  • nausea
  • rapid or shallow breathing
  • feeling faint

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Cognitive symptoms include:

  • inability to remember simple things
  • illogical thinking
  • mental blocks

In order to deal with exam anxiety one needs to address both the physical and cognitive aspects of the anxiety. Certain techniques are specifically recommended for the relief of exam anxiety, with some requiring  practice and persistence.

Positive Self-Talk

Our thoughts have the ability to create positive or negative feelings about ourselves and situations. Anxiety is brought on by a person’s thoughts or expectations of how an event or experience is likely to turn out. A solution for dealing with this form of doubt is referred to as cognitive restructuring – what this process does is get the individual to examine their irrational, negative self-talk and replace it with positive self-talk.

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If you repeatedly tell yourself that you are not going to do well in an exam, your emotions will mirror this message resulting in feelings of anxiety because the message you are repeating to yourself is negative and self-defeating.

Of course just telling yourself that you are ready for an exam, but you haven’t opened a book, is not going to work. You need to have put the effort and time in so as to reinforce your positive self-talk; so that the message is true and you can believe in it.

Be Smart 

1. Be realistic about the amount of time you have.

It is easy to misjudge how much time you actually have available for studying or completing assignments. One way of finding out where you are wasting time or could be using your time more productively is by creating a master schedule:

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You literally map out every hour of every day (weekends included) and create a “big picture” of how you spend your time. You will then be able to see what time you have available for studying / working on assignments, where you are maybe wasting time and, where you could perhaps get more time from during particularly busy periods.

2. Pay attention in lectures

You don’t realise it but your lecturers drop hints and clues throughout their lectures about what is important and may be coming up in the next exam or assignment – if you pay close enough attention you will notice them:

  • writing notes / keywords on the whiteboard
  • repeating something over and over in a lesson, or over a period of time
  • literally saying the words: “This is important”
  • their tone of voice or gestures when address a particular concept or topic
  • assigning specific readings or textbook chapters

3. Take notes during lectures…and use them

Taking notes during lectures means you are actively engaging and thinking about what is being presented. By re-writing the notes after the class you will not only be reinforcing the information but you will also be able to organise it in an understandable manner; highlighting keywords or concepts that the lecturer paid special attention to.

4. Really study

Studying is not about reading your textbook and notes over and over again in the hopes that the information will magically transport itself to your memory, so that you can regurgitate it into your answer book during the exam.

Studying means knowing and understanding concepts and theories and how they relate and interact. At college level you will very seldom (if ever) be expected to merely memorise and regurgitate information; instead you are required to analyse, apply and organise the information you have learned into a response that adequately addresses the question that is asked.

Relaxation Techniques

The use of relaxation techniques is often recommended for the treatment of anxiety. There are a variety of techniques that can be used, we will be looking at two particular exercises:

  • Deep breathing
  • Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Deep breathing:

When you are relaxed you tend to take longer and deeper breaths versus when you are anxious your breathing becomes shallow and rapid. Deep breathing exercises reverses this, sending a message to your brain telling it to calm the body.

Deep breathing is a technique which becomes more effective with practice as your body will learn to read the signs that it needs to relax and calm down.

Technique:

  • You can be sitting or standing, just make sure you are relaxed (no tensed muscles) before you begin.
  • Make sure your hands are relaxed, your knees are soft, and your shoulders and jaw are relaxed.
  • Breathe in slowly through your nose – counting in your head for five beats as you breathe in, keep your shoulders down and allow your stomach to expand as you breathe in.
  • Hold your breath for 5 – 10 beats – you shouldn’t feel uncomfortable but you should be holding your breath for a little longer than you normally would.
  • Breathe out slowly and smoothly for 5 – 10 beats.
  • Repeat until you feel calm.

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Progressive Muscle Relaxation:

When a person is stressed or anxious they tend to tense their muscles resulting in feelings of stiffness and sometimes even pain in the back, shoulders and / or neck. Progressive muscle relaxation teaches you how to become aware of where you store your tension and to release it.

Technique:

  • Find a quiet, private room.
  • Lie down on your back, making sure you are comfortable. You may want to put a pillow behind your head. Take your shoes off and make sure you are wearing comfortable, loose fitting clothes.
  • You are now going to intentionally tense each of your muscle groups, and then relax them, starting with your feet and working your way up the body.

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  • Tense the muscles in your toes – curl them into your foot – take note of how this feels – hold the position for 5 seconds.
  • Relax your toes – notice how they feel different in the relaxed state.
  • Tense the muscles in your calves – hold it for 5 seconds – notice the feeling of tension in your leg.
  • Relax your calves – notice how the feeling of relaxation differs
  • Tense your knees – pull the knee caps upwards – hold the pose for 5 seconds – notice the feeling of tension in your knees.
  • Relax the knees – notice the feeling of relaxation.

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  • Repeat the pattern of tensing and releasing working upwards through your body: thighs, buttocks, pelvic floor, stomach, fingers, hands, forearms, upper arms, shoulders, neck, face.
  • No other muscle group should be tensed when focusing on a particular area.
  • Make sure that the room you are in is quiet and comfortable, so that you can concentrate on the feeling of tension and relaxation without any disturbances.
  • You may feel sleepy after (or you may even fall asleep during) this exercise.

Disclaimer:

The breathing and relaxation techniques provided in this post are for informational purposes only. Please consult your family doctor before beginning any new exercise or relaxation programme. This is particularly important if you have any pre-existing health conditions.


References:

Therapist Aid.com (n.d.). Relaxation Techniques. Retrieved from: http://www.therapistaid.com/therapy-worksheet/relaxation-techniques/anxiety/adults. [Accessed: 19 April 2016].

University of Alabama. (n.d.). Dealing with Test Anxiety. Retrieved from: http://www.ctl.ua.edu/CTLStudyAids/StudySkillsFlyers/TestPreparation/testanxiety.htm. [Accessed: 09 May 2016].

Watson, J. (2015). Avoiding Test Anxiety – Tip Sheet. Retrieved from: https://www.butte.edu/departments/cas/tipsheets/studystrategies/test_anxiety.html. [Accessed: 09 May 2016].

Weimer, M. (2016). Test Anxiety: Causes and Remedies. Retrieved from: http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-professor-blog/test-anxiety-causes-and-remedies/ . [Accessed: 09 May 2016].

 

FOCUS ON: Anger Management – Tips & Strategies

Anger issues and how we deal with anger can often be traced back to what we experienced and learned as children. If you grew up in a family that screams at each other, throws things or hits each other, you might believe that this is an acceptable and normal way of expressing anger. 

Ways of Dealing with Anger

There are three main ways of dealing with anger:

  1. Expression – this involves conveying your anger to the other person. Expression can range from a rational and reasonable conversation to a violent, ranting outburst.
  2. Suppression – this involves holding your anger in and either not outwardly expressing it at all or trying to convert it into a more constructive and acceptable emotion or behaviour. Suppression can be destructive though and can result in turning your anger inwards on yourself. Nothing, especially anger, can be suppressed forever, it will eventually come out in one form or another.
  3. Remaining calm – this involves controlling your outward expression of anger (i.e. your behaviour) as well as your internal responses by calming yourself and letting the emotion subside.

The most helpful and healthy form of dealing with anger is through constructive expression, this refers to expressing your concerns, feelings and needs clearly and directly, without hurting yourself or others or trying to manipulate or control them.

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Tips for Taming your Temper 

1. Examine what’s behind your anger 

Often (not always) anger is a cover up for other feelings. When struggling with anger, which may be inappropriate to the situation, stop and ask yourself: “Am I really angry? Or is this something else?” Anger can present itself in place of other feelings such as hurt, shame, insecurity, vulnerability, or embarrassment.

Anger can often be triggered by what we “think” has happened – a person being  inconsiderate or finding yourself in a frustrating situation. The anger you are experiencing however has little to do with what has actually happened to you than how you have interpreted the situation. Negative thinking patterns can trigger and fuel anger.

Common negative thinking patterns:

  • overgeneralising – examples: “You never listen to me.”, “You always take his side.”, “Everyone thinks I’m always wrong.”
  • mind reading / jumping to conclusions – assuming that you know what another person is thinking or feeling i.e. that a person deliberately did something, knowing that it would upset you.
  • collecting straws – looking for and focusing on things that upset you, ignoring or minimising any positives. Allowing small irritations to build until you reach your limit (“the final straw”) and you explode.
  • shoulds and musts – having a rigid idea of how things should or must be and then getting upset when reality does not match up to this vision.
  • blaming – nothing is ever your fault, you blame others for things that happen to you, never taking responsibility for your life.

2. Take note of your anger triggers & warning signs

It may feel as if you have no control over your anger, that it just explodes from within you without any warning; but this is not true, your body gives you signals which you need to become aware of.

Anger is an innate (natural, intuitive) response to a perceived threat, it triggers the “fight or flight” response in us. Thus, the angrier you get, the more your body responds and gets ready to fight or run. By becoming familiar with your own warning signs when your temper starts getting the better of you, you are allowing yourself the time and space in which to take the necessary steps to keep you anger in check.

Physical signs to pay attention to:

  • stomach turns into knots / butterflies
  • pounding heart
  • clenching of your fists and / or jaw
  • tension in your shoulders
  • feeling clammy (sweaty) or flushed
  • breathing faster
  • headaches
  • pacing, needing to walk around, agitated fidgeting
  • trouble concentrating

Something else to consider is avoiding places, situations and people who may trigger your irritability or anger. Stress inducing people, events and situations are no excuse for poor anger management. Get to know and understand the types of environments and people who trip your anger switch e.g. 5 o’clock bumper-to-bumper traffic; the friend who knows it all, has seen it all and done it all. Brainstorm ideas around how to either avoid these triggers or deal with them differently so that it doesn’t turn into a stressful, irritating situation for you.

3. Learn to calm down

Once you’ve identified your triggers and warning signs, the next step is to deal with your rising anger before it boils over. There are a variety of strategies that can help you keep your cool and anger in place.

Cooling down strategies:

  • slowly count to 10 – this sounds ridiculous but it does work. Focus on the counting and allow your rational mind to catch up with your running wild emotions. If you’re still feeling like your about to explode by the time you’ve reached ten, start counting again. Repeat as many times as it takes for you to calm down.
  • take a deep breath – deep, slow breathing is a form of relaxation and counteracts increasing tension in the body. When you are angry your breathing rate increases and becomes shallow – part of the “fight or flight” response. By slowing down your breathing and breathing deeply you are telling your body to “stand down” and relax.
  • exercise – a brisk walk or jog helps to release pent up energy and tension, it may also remove you from the situation which is causing the stress and anger thus giving you time to clear your head and cool off.
  • focus on the physical signs of anger – by turning your attention to how your body is reacting and feeling, the tension may dissipate and the intensity of your anger may pass.

It may also help to stop for a moment and put things into perspective – ask yourself the following questions:

  • how important is this in the greater scheme of things?
  • is it really worth getting this upset about?
  • is my response appropriate to the situation?
  • is there anything I can do about it?
  • is this a good use of my time and energy?

4. Find healthy ways of expressing yourself

If you feel that the situation is worth getting upset about and that you are able to make a difference because of it, you need to know how to express your feelings in a healthy, positive way.

Know what you are angry about

Often big arguments happen over small things – the problem here is that there is usually a bigger issue, that has been brewing for some time and the “small”, unrelated thing has triggered your anger. If you find yourself in this situation or where you can feel your anger snowballing into something bigger, stop and ask yourself “What am I really angry about?” By identifying the real source of your anger, you will be able to communicate what your frustration is about and hopefully in a more constructive expressive manner.

Take a time-out

If you feel your anger is spiralling out of control, it’s best to remove yourself from the situation until you’ve calmed down enough to continue the discussion calmly and constructively. This may mean leaving the room or house, going for a walk, doing some chores or running an errand.

Use “I” statements

Don’t get caught in a blaming contest – always use “I” statements to describe the problem and remember to be respectful and specific e.g. “I am upset that you left the majority of the assignment for me to answer and type up” instead of “You always let me down, you never pull your weight or do your share of the work.

Keep it clean

There are going to be times when an argument cannot be avoided, it is then that you need to remember to fight fair. By keeping an argument “clean” and fair you will be more likely to get your point across in a clear and respectful manner.

  • focus on the present – don’t bringing up past grievances and transgressions, keep the focus of the argument on the current problem rather than confusing things and assigning blame.
  • winning is not everything – maintaining and working on the relationship should be your main priority when arguing, not “winning” or “being right”. Be respectful of the other persons opinion and standpoint.
  • pick your battles – conflict and arguing can be soul destroying and draining, you need to decide whether the issue is really important enough for you to invest your time and energy arguing over it.
  • know when to let it go – it takes two people to have an argument, if there is no end in sight or an agreement is not possible, agree to disagree, disengage and walk away.
  • learn to forgive – conflict resolution is impossible without forgiveness. To reach a resolution means to stop seeking to punish the other party. If you cannot let go and forgive there is no resolution and the argument will continue be it in a day, a month or a years time.

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References:

American Psychological Association. (2015). Controlling Anger Before it Controls You. Retrieved from: http://www.apa.org/topics/anger/control.aspx [Accessed on: 19 April 2015].

Mayo Clinic. (2014). Anger Management: 10 Tips to Tame your Temper. Retrieved from: http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/adult-health/in-depth/anger-management/art-20045434 [Accessed on: 19 April 2015].

Segal, R. & Smith, M. (2014). Anger Management: Tips & Techniques for Getting Anger Under Control. Retrieved from: http://www.helpguide.org/articles/emotional-health/anger-management.htm [Accessed on: 19 April 2015].