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How To Beat Exam Stress With Just The Power Of Your Brain

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Peter Clough:

Stress is part of life. Too much stress, over a sustained period, is clearly damaging, but normally we can deal effectively with short bouts. In fact, while stress may be uncomfortable, it can actually be a key motivator and the right amount of it can help to boost our performance.

But there is a limit. Too much stress and the opposite tends to happen, leading our confidence and performance to decline at a rapid rate. The stress and performance relationship is often seen as an upside down “U” – as you get more stressed, your performance improves until you reach an optimum point – then it declines. In reality, it is more common for it to act as a motivator and then reach a sudden and severe drop – this is something I like to refer to as falling off the “fear cliff”.

Stress can easily turn to fear and what happens when fear raises its ugly head is twofold. First, all our good intentions go out the window and we snap back into our comfort zones. Second, we panic and believe that just because in the past we have made a mistake this is bound to happen again.

To avoid the “fear cliff” it is important to take a couple of steps back from the edge and think about your goals in advance. Set yourself realistic targets, two hours study may well be effective, but four hours is not twice as effective.

Research shows that the human brain can only effectively concentrate for about 45 minutes – after that your concentration levels dip. So make sure you plan breaks into your revision schedule. Split the day into hour-long chunks knowing that for the last 10-15 minutes of the hour you will have a break before you move on to your next topic.

Taking Charge

Two frogs
Which would you eat first? mar_chm1982/Shutterstock

When it comes to deciding what to actually revise during these sessions it can seem like a good option to do the easy stuff first. You know your French better than your Spanish so it makes sense to start with that, right? Wrong! Always do the hardest task at the beginning – do not warm up by doing the easy stuff.

Another way to look at this is to think about how you would eat two frogs? An odd question, but the clear answer is to eat the ugliest first. Get the hard stuff out of the way while your brain is still fresh, leaving the easier stuff to cool down with later in the day.

Another way to manage the fear in the run up to exam time is to manage your thoughts. While well-meaning advice such as “cheer up”, “think positive” or “don’t worry” doesn’t really work, there are some simple techniques that do. The “attitude ladder“, for example, can be helpful when it comes to managing exam stress.

Visualise a ladder with its rungs. See the lower rungs as the negative thoughts – “I can’t do this”, “I don’t know how to do it”, “I wish I knew how to do it” – and the higher rungs as the positive thoughts. So the top of the ladder would be “I did it” and the second rung would be “I can do it” followed by “I will do it” and so on.

When revising or tackling exams, the aim is to be at the top of the ladder on rungs one, two or three. This is done by speaking positively to ourselves. Think about how you would talk to your best friend: you wouldn’t put them down, you’d build them up. So learn to be your own best friend when it comes to revision.

Climb that attitude ladder.
Climb that attitude ladder. Source: remastv/Shutterstock

Quit Catastrophising

Ah, I hear people say, but what about when I really can’t do something? The key here is to control the controllables. At this stage of the process, there is a tendency to dwell on the “could haves” and “should haves”. The simple message is work out what you can do now and then do it. It might not be perfect but dreaming of retrospective perfection is not at all helpful.

People often think about the “what ifs?” in terms of the negative. Instead of thinking “what if I get a question on my worst topic”, think “what if get a question on my best subject”. Think about what could go right for you and it will really help.

The final thing to remember is to stop “catastrophising”. Failing an exam will not be a catastrophe and it doesn’t have to have a knock-on effect for the rest of your life. There is always a Plan B – or a resit. It is not the end of the world – just a bump in the road.

Peter Clough, Professor of Psychology, Manchester Metropolitan University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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