Answers For Second Term Culinary Practical Exam Exam Stress Management

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Exam Stress Management

Understanding Test Pressure

In my clinical practice I come across students struggling with exam stress. The same problems are repeated year after year:

• Difficulty sleeping

• Poor judgment

• Depression

• Anxiety / Worry / Overthinking

• Irrational and/or Aggressive Behavior

• Abdominal pain

• Dangerous thoughts

If a student has one or more of these, they need help to manage themselves. Where can they start?

It is important that you start to understand what is happening to your brain, under the real conditions of ‘trying to learn under stress’. To put it simply, you can say that in this situation there are two parts of your brain that are competing.

The first, related to learning is the auditory part of the brain, which is located in the front of the head behind your forehead. It is known as the pre-frontal cortex. This is where we process a lot, without getting carried away. We use it as a smart training.

The second is the ‘fight/flight’ part of the brain, which is triggered by stress. It is located at the back of the head and is known as the amygdala. All our sensory information (what we see, hear, smell, taste, touch) is processed through the medium to ‘check’ whether it is safe. It’s like a computer program that runs in the background all the time without our knowledge.

Recent research has shown that the signal to the prefrontal or learning center of the brain is temporarily lost when we go into fight/flight. In fact, stress causes a focus on the survival part of the brain. Remember that survival is the most important thing in the body. Threats trigger fight/flight. When survival responses take over, rational thinking becomes less effective and the signal in this part of the brain is turned off.

When your body goes into fight/flight mode many changes occur, including; increased heart rate, deep breathing & adrenaline increase. In addition to this you stop producing digestive enzymes in your stomach and mouth and your bowels can become loose. Your bladder also needs to empty. Your neck and shoulders may be ‘locked’ or clenched like your jaw. These changes explain why many of the symptoms mentioned above occur when the stress of the exam increases.

In my experience as a therapist some people are more likely to respond to fight/flight than others. The reasons can vary from genetics, to stress and trauma. In cases of trauma, it is best to seek professional help. Talk to your doctor or teacher for help.

If you are studying you need to be safe, calm and motivated. If you are feeling stressed, this is normal but if it gets too much you need to lift it before it gets too big.

So what can you do to reduce exam stress? Below I mentioned my Top Tips for managing the exam exam.

Number 1 – Practice Your Breathing.

You will remember how your body changes during fight/flight. Your breathing and heart rate quicken and you get an adrenaline rush. When you slow down your breathing you slow down your nervous system in many cases. This is why meditation teachers have been training people to use it as part of their practice for thousands of years. There are a few simple breathing techniques that I teach for exam stress. If you do it for a few minutes, even in difficult situations it will help you to de-stress. You cannot breathe often and slowly and still be alive. Breathe slowly and without force with closed eyes for best results.

Number 2 – Move

Your brain and body have evolved to respond to stress by moving. The fight/flight response is a call to action. Unfortunately your brain does not understand that the stress of the exam requires you to sit! By taking action you satisfy your body’s desire to move.

Research shows that regular exercise is very effective. This to me seems natural as it mimics what you would do if you were running away from a bear. This is how the brain is made. When you burn adrenaline your nervous system feels better. An added benefit of doing this regularly is that it helps your brain learn. A stronger body, a better brain and a calmer mind.

Number 3 – Seeing

I’ve been doing face masks for years and I’m always amazed at the results. It works well with breathing techniques. When you close your eyes and see a positive outcome in the future your brain begins to create a mental state that allows it to happen. I use it a lot for public speaking. When I practice before giving a speech, I feel like I’m having a one-on-one conversation. It’s easy and fun. The important part is this. You should think about the event that you find bothering you when you feel better. Your brain attaches great value to the feeling and begins to move towards it. I get a lot of feedback from students who use this method.

Number 4 – Eat clean, healthy food.

Preparing for final year exams is like preparing for a sports competition. A lot of energy will be required of you. So it is important that you have a healthy diet. A variety of foods with healthy vegetables is important. You need to get the right nutrients in your body to maximize your energy. Good fats, good vegetables, clean meats are important. Reduce sugar levels gradually while increasing your intake of other foods and you will improve your attention and alertness. Drink plenty of water. It helps cleanse the body and the brain loves it.

Coffee and energy drinks can be distracting for some people so I don’t recommend using them. Often times you end up with too much energy and then crash which leaves you worse off than before.

Number 5 – Sleep

Waking up tired from not sleeping well will start you off on the back foot. The most important part of falling asleep is waking up before going to sleep. Stop studying an hour before you’re full and put away your smart phones and TV. Go for a walk to clear your head or meditate. There are special yoga tours for night time that can also help. Another great way to relax your body and mind is with an Epsom salt bath, taken for fifteen to twenty minutes.

Also, one of the benefits of exercise is that your body is tired from it and sleep is easier. Finally, don’t eat late and drink a mild herbal tea.

Summary

So remember, if you’re studying for an important exam and you’re stressed, remember that too much stress makes everything worse. You can manage stress with breathing techniques and exercise, while seeing good results with eating and sleeping well. If things get overwhelming make sure you tell a parent or teacher and get professional help. No matter how important you think exams are, nothing is more important than your health. So be as calm as you can.

Good luck to you!

Tony

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