With Scottish exams kicking off this month, an Aberdeen hypnotherapist has shared some quick tips for coping with stress – and revealed a calming breathing technique “worth its weight in gold”.
We spoke to Arlene Wilson, who knows how the effects of stress and anxiety can affect exam performance, and how to overcome it.
“As a student, you will most likely already be aware of what information you need to pass and what you need to do to study,” she said.
“But, all too often, stress and anxiety get in the way and reduce your ability to focus – thus your concentration suffers and feelings of being overwhelmed may surface.
‘Feed your mind positive thoughts’
Arlene says a calm mind will always help when you’re stepping into an exam, and has some advice on how to achieve this.
She said: “Practice focusing on positives in your life.
“These can be from the tiniest of experiences – perhaps a beautiful sunrise you saw this morning, to bigger things – (for example if) you passed your driving test last week.
“Anything and everything should be considered and stored in your mind.
“Gather these experiences up every day and recall them often as you go along.
“Learn to train your mind to find and focus on these positive events and experiences.
“Feed your mind positive thoughts.”
Stop trying to predict the future
Arlene says “negatively forecasting” the outcome of an event can make it more likely to happen.
That could be thinking you’ve not done enough revision to pass, or expecting an exam to be beyond your capabilities.
“Every time you allow these thoughts to creep into your mind you are actually creating more and more anxiety,” Arlene says.
“This simply clutters your brain and makes focus and concentration more difficult.”
Similarly, she says thinking about the past in this way can also have the same effect.
‘Starve’ your brain of negativity
Arlene advises “starving” your mind of these negative thoughts – no more “I failed last time, so I’m bound to fail again.”
She added: “You will realise that your mind starts to become focused on the positive aspects of your life – allowing important chemicals such as serotonin, which regulates anxiety, happiness and mood, to flow more easily to your brain.”
Arlene also advises people limit their social media use to “declutter” their brains and leave more time to focus on the information they need to study.
Arlene’s breathing technique for calm in the exam hall
She added: “A quick, but incredibly effective, way to temporarily lower anxiety is to use breathing techniques.
“My favourite one is to inhale through your nose slowly for eight seconds, hold for eight second then very slowly exhale through your mouth for 10 seconds – until your lungs are as empty as you can get them.
“It takes a few attempts to perfect this technique but it is worth its weight in gold – especially in the moments before you turn the exam paper over.”