Exam/Assignment Stress

Well, I guess this post is going to be much more of the personal type. The motivation behind my blog is infinite, but I think it comes down to one thing: a place to write down all the important life lessons I’ve learnt in my twenties.

I wouldn’t call myself a perfectionist, but I definitely think that I have incredibly high standards of myself. That leads me to be quite an anxious person, who can be quite obsessive over little things. As much as I want to benefit myself (and by extension Chris) from this blog, I hope that my own personal experience may be of some worth to the perfectionist in you.

I think every university student – regardless of what degree, has experienced some kind of pre-exam/assignment stress and sometimes it can get the better of us, in terms of performance and well NO ONE LIKES BEING STRESSED. And it happens to be the current situation I am in now – I have about 14 hours before this assignment due and holy crap it’s hard.

Just asking around, I genuinely think that EVERYONE is stressed by this task. It’s probably the biggest challenge we have come up against (and we have had quite a few) and people aren’t taking it too well. I have seen tears (myself included), sleep deprivation and really short tempers and I believe that it is really becoming a bigger issue than it should be. But we go through this every semester and it can be incredibly draining, so how about we reflect just this once, so we don’t make the same mistake for the rest of our degree.

With this 32 page assignment due soon, I thought now would be a good time to  summarise the important lessons that I have learned about how to handle stress while the feeling is quite raw.

  1. Some nice deep breaths.

So that tightness in your chest? You might not be able to get rid of it entirely but nice deep breaths are the first aid to your anxiety attack. Simple as it sounds, it works. Putting all your energy into regulating your breathing does a few things. 1) It distracts you from what’s causing your anxiety and 2) it prevents you from hyperventilating and having an anxiety attack. Again, not an anxiety expert, but if you Google stuff, you’ll find that there are actual exercises you can do that are targeted to minimise stress. My personal favourite, however, is just to breathe in as slowly and for as long as I can and exhale for the same amount of time. Count. The first time you inhale for a little too long and it kinda hurts but after a while, you’ll feel yourself relax. Try it now, shut your eyes and clear your mind – it works even when you’re not anxious.

  1. Think about the optimistic bigger picture.

If you’ve got your priorities straight (which I think you do, if you don’t – get them in line), think about all the things you’ve actually got going for you.

There are some things you can change, and there are some things you can’t. Not sure if this is going to work for everyone, but I like to imagine the worst case scenario of what can happen. I fail my exam, have to repeat my unit of study, pay another $1000 which is added to my already massive student debt, extend my degree by a year and… well that’s pretty much as bad as it gets. Obviously this doesn’t work with some major issues, but for the little ones sometimes logic is the key.  If the thinking about the worst case scenario doesn’t seem to work – try thinking about all the things you actually do have going for you. [Chris here: related to this worst case scenario thinking, there’s this thing in psychology called “impact bias” whereby we tend to overestimate both the intensity and duration of feelings that actually occur. In this case, it means that even if Annette was to experience the worst case scenario, it won’t actually be as bad as she expects. In fact, a study found that with very few exceptions, if it happened more than three months ago, the event has virtually no impact on your current happiness]

  1. Talk to someone about it and surround yourself by a good support system

I think the best part of my studies right now are the people. If you put in some solid effort, everyone manages to solve problems together and by having that support system, a little weight is taken off your shoulders as each person has their strengths and can help one another out. Not only are there benefits to your education, but just having someone to laugh at stuff is the best kind of medicine to your stress.

  1. Exercise

Endorphins and shit. And even if you don’t overcome your anxiety, at least you’ll have your physical health going for you.

  1. Growth mindset.

This is probably the most useful thing you can do – change your negative energy into positive energy. Often, your anxiety can be triggered by a certain upcoming event and rather than stressing about all the stuff you can do to prepare or all the stuff you can do now, take it to be an opportunity  to grow. This is definitely one of the harder techniques to use and I know I was quite sceptical of whether it worked but if you really put your mind to it, it’s definitely high reward. Not only do you reduce your anxiety, you’re working that brain muscle with self-control (more marshmallows for you, read Chris’ post on self-control).

And I think the final note for me is just to remember that it’s okay to feel stressed, and often it can be turned into something better. If you feel stressed, think of it as your body’s way of preparing yourself for something awesome. [Just to butt in one more time and grab the final word, Annette’s definitely right on this one – viewing stress as a way your body prepares you for something actually improves performance, while viewing it as something harmful tends to decrease performance]

Love, Annette

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