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Exam pressure and resilience

Posted on 22 April 2019

It’s that time of year again! Exams at school and at university are fast approaching. As usual, I notice the spike in clients seeking my help in my hypnotherapy for anxiety clinics in Harley Street and in Henley on Thames.


Firstly, I want to say if you, or anyone in your family have issues then get in touch with me. There is no reason to suffer in silence. Not only can I help you to perform at your best, I can also guide you to live your life more happily and perhaps to understand the role success plays in that.


But for now, in this blog post I want to look at some interesting changes in how we deal with these anxieties.


Exams: the annual stress ritual


There is a change in the air. With our increased awareness of the need for all of us to protect our mental health, more and more people are questioning the role of this annual stress ritual in our lives.


Probably there will always be exams. After all, society, and we as individuals, need some way of measuring our aptitudes and our suitability for different roles and skills. But what we can change is the idea that success in exams, or indeed success in the professions which a good exam result can lead to, is the be all and end all of life.



Embracing failure and working through it


One news item which caught my eye as I was considering this reported on the new initiatives of colleges in the United States.


With anxiety rates among students rising by more than ten percent in the past decade the problem is serious and some innovative ways to tackle it are being found. I would like to share some of these with you.


Bentley University in Massachusetts held a meeting in a packed auditorium with the message that we all fail sometimes and it does not have to be a disaster.


Former students recalled failed companies, problems with addiction, and failures in exams. Their message was that . . . they are fine. The fear of failure was worse than the failure itself. 


This was just one of a whole host of initiatives designed to combat the rapidly rising level of anxiety among US college students. Counsellors and mental health experts have noticed that many students seem to lack the resilience and life skills to cope if they fail.


Developing grit and resilience


Here are some more ideas. The University of California is offering ‘grit coaching’. The University of Minnesota recently hosted a ‘resilience resource fair’.


Many of these programmes have at their core a message that life should be balanced. They often offer help with everything from managing finances to how to make successful relationships. They recognise that if we are to be resilient to the stuff that life can throw at us, we need more than study and work. We need health and relationships and culture and fun. We need a life!


And if we have that, then navigating those early adult years of exams and tests becomes easier. We will be more, not less likely to take risks, and to move out of our comfort zone. We will be more creative and find it easier to come to what we actually want to do with our lives.


Failure is normal


Another thing which we are beginning to realise is that we do not have to feel sunny all the time.


Failing and then feeling bad about it is normal and we should embrace that. When failure becomes a problem is when it starts to take over the whole of life.  If we recognise it as a stage in life, and a stage where we can learn, it takes on a different aspect. Colorado State University now invites students to take a pledge to embrace failure and work their way through it.


Learning to accept challenge


These initiatives are not about being soft or dodging challenge. In fact, they are the very opposite. Some institutions have noticed that professors have had a tendency to mark up because they are frightened of inducing anxiety episodes or even worse in their students. If we have a way of developing resilience, teachers will not need to do this. Cornell College in Iowa believes that failure is normal and actually it is an important part of developing resilience to recognise that failure is normal and part of leaning. It says: ‘a grade C is not the end of the world.’ Learning that lesson, and working through the emotions which come with it, is worthwhile. Getting a B because the professor is scared of upsetting you is not.


This is the sort of approach I embrace in my work. Not only will I help you with the presenting problem of exam nerves or anxiety, I will also help you clear away those beliefs which make you feel you are not worthwhile unless you succeed in this ritual. You are worthwhile and you will have a much happier life when you can recognise and embrace this.

Fiona Nicolson on Google+

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