As the Leaving and Junior Certificate exams get underway, it is normal for students - and parents - to become overwhelmed by the high level of stress and anxiety that comes hand-in-hand with state exams.
During this tricky period, our team at Walk in My Shoes (WIMS) is encouraging students to be aware of their emotional wellbeing, and to take steps to use these feelings to their advantage, rather than becoming overwhelmed.
Dr Colman Noctor, Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist at St Patrick’s Mental Health Services advises that, at this stage of the process, it is normal for anxiety levels to run high. Instead of trying to eliminate it, students should try to set about managing it, and accepting that certain levels of anxiety are actually useful when it comes to high pressure situations, such as the state exams.
“Sometimes, our expectations of what an experience will be like can influence the effect it can have on us. For example, if you anticipate that you will not be stressed about the state exams, but feel yourself becoming more and more anxious the closer it approaches, then you are more likely to be caught with a curve ball. Don’t give yourself too hard a time about it. A state exam is a stressful life event and so try to channel the anxiety into something more productive than panic. Anxiety and stress can either drive us on or immobilise us, and often the differential comes with whether you stay in control of your stress or you allow your stress level to control you. Remember that anticipatory anxiety is normal and remind yourself that this often passes or subsides ten minutes into the first exam.”
For better mental wellbeing during exam time, taking the following steps might help.
Trust your process.
Anxiety comes from the fear of the unknown, and so situations like a driving test, a job interview or an exam amplify this uncertainty. The process and outcome of all of these situations are unknown and, therefore, they create fear. We can become consumed by the unknowns and, therefore, immobilised by the lack of control we have over the outcome; this can result in panic. However, if we concentrate on the knowns and attempt to reassure ourselves that we have done some preparation for this event and, as a result, we will be as ready as we can be for what comes up, this can help to manage those panicky feelings.
Play your own game.
Do not compare your preparation to others as you will always adjudge yourself to be not doing enough or as much.
Try to take control of your anxiety/stress and use it to motivate you.
Use your feelings to consolidate what you know already, rather than allowing them to distract you with the worst-case scenario unknowns. Older adults can often describe having an anxiety dream where they are doing a state exam and they turn over the paper and it all appears to be gibberish. This is a classic example of a ‘worst case scenario’ dream and will this will not be the reality in 100% of exam experiences.
Remember context and perspective.
Where the anxious voice in your head is dominating the discussions, remember to invite two other influences to join the conversation, namely context and perspective. These will help you to counter-argue your anxious thoughts and manage the unwelcome guest of anxiety into your life.
Remember that anxiety is only here for a flying visit.
Soon, this too will pass!
Get more tips and supports
Check out our wellbeing advice and activities below for more support in getting through your exams.