Exam week jitters: an OMs tips for a more balanced experience

Anxiety is the theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week 2023!  

Anxiety is a normal emotion in us all, but sometimes it can get out of control and become a mental health problem. Lots of things can lead to feelings of anxiety including exam pressures, but what can we do to help cope with these feelings?  

There are lots of things which we can do to help manage feelings of anxiety, and what works will be different for everyone. We chatted with OM and Clinical Psychologist Katrina Wood, on how to cope with the pressures of exams while looking after your mental health too.   

Exam Jitters 

Exam week can be fraught with jitters! Emotions, dread, and even anticipation and excitement are all common feelings during exam season. 

The final stretch of your school life is here, and yet to get through this week you must understand that a range of thoughts and feelings will run the gamut. As you take your seat and the words ‘you may start now’ reminds you that everything you have studied, retained, and worked towards over the months, will be required to be written down in a short yet important few hours of time.   

What matters most during this stressful period are a few things: the most important is the reminder that you got here, you worked hard, you studied, and you find yourself committed to the challenge before you.   

What matters also is that you give yourself small affirmations along the way, gentle encouragement for your courage and strengths. Regardless of how you may feel about a particular subject you are sitting for, whether it be one of your better subjects or not, you made the commitment to try to be the best you can be.   

Those Little Gremlin Voices   

Worrying and stress can cause booming gremlin voices that have a habit of picking away at the negatives, the not good enough parts of ourselves susceptible to under mining all that has been done, all there is, and all of who you are. Now is not the time to be afraid of them, or to let them take up any space in your mind or heart. 

Sometimes it helps to say something like “I have no time for you, I have worked hard, I am focusing on my strengths, and I am worth being treated with kindness and support.’ Sounds silly perhaps but keeping out the ‘monkey brain’ part of us, the part that picks away and runs a mile a minute when under stress, requires a healthy dose of kindness and strong reminder of all that you are - regardless of how your scores come out.   

Deep Breathing   

Deep breathing and stepping into a quiet space can calm your brain and mind to create a balanced sense of yourself prior to stepping into the exam room. If you have a mantra that you chant or a few minutes to simply empty your mind and focus on your breathing in then out, this will release some endorphins and reduce any cortisol fight or flight element which might be lurking around, can be regulated by deep breathing and has been proven helpful under stressful times, even a few minutes makes a difference. 

What matters most is to focus on the importance and significance of your unique self throughout your entire life span. The plans and path of your life are full of hopes and dreams of where you want to go and be. These are wonderful aspirations, so keep them close to you always. Then when life shows us unexpected events and chance meetings, they point us in directions we may not have even considered, such is the beauty and wonder of life.   

At the end of the day, doing your best is what matters most, showing up, taking your exam, and validating your strengths, commitment, and courage. Stay true to your worth and uniqueness with kindness and support for yourself, and from others around you. You will exceed far beyond exam week, and with these little reminders to provide a solid foundation, you have a rock upon which enduring values are made of.  

Dr Katrina Wood (1969-1973; Johnson's)