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Just relax. A guide to stress free exams

in Your Health

Just relax. A guide to stress free exams

Ideas to help you through your exams in a relatively calm and relaxed manner, before you reach that final coffee and chocolate filled night of last-minute revision.

Start with ABC

Awareness brings 
Balance and 

A - If you are aware of how you are thinking, feeling and behaving, it is a step towards bringing balance and control into your life. If you are hard at work, feeling stressed-out, bent over your desk, computer or patient, are you aware of the tension in your body? Do your head, neck and shoulders ache? If so, be aware of the fact that your body posture is incorrect and do something about it. Try the sequence below to release tension.

Quick tension release

• Release shoulders by pulling gently down away from your neck.
• Release the jaw by separating your teeth slightly. Feel the tonque loose in the floor of your mouth.
• Release tension in your forhead by thinking of it as higher and wider than before. Eyes should feel relaxed.
• If your hands aren't full of dental instruments, give them a shake.

B - Relaxation is fundamental to managing of stress and the more you include it in your daily routine, the better. Relaxation energises you and can actually aid study by increasing your concentration.

How about changing your study routine to incorporate some relaxation. Try starting your session on the hour and finishing on the hour; for example, work for twenty minutes and have a five-minute relaxation break. Continue working for another twenty-five minutes and have a ten-minute break.

It has been proven that working in shorter bursts is actually more effective than sitting without a break for long periods of time. If however you are doing work that is slightly less demanding, perhaps work for forty-five minutes and have a fifteen minute break. Choose whichever combination suits you best.

Quick sitting relaxation you can do in study breaks

• Sit in a chair with your back well supported.
• Breathe in and stretch. Breathe out and snuggle back comfortably.
• Make sure your feet are flat on the floor in front of you and your hands are resting palms downwards on your thighs.
• Close your eyes and focus on each part of the body in turn. Let your thighs roll outwards - ankles and legs feel loose and relaxed.
• Fingers feel limp, curved and still.
• Abdomen moves easily as you breathe.
• Arms feel heavy. Face - cheeks feel soft, lips are hardly touching, forehead and eyes feel relaxed.
• Stay relaxed for the remainder of the five-minute break and become aware of the whole body's sensation in muscles and joints. Slowly open your eyes, stretch, look around and return to your work refreshed.

C - If work is causing you problems, and you feel confused, uptight or anxious - do something to release your pent up energy. Dance around in your room, go for a jog or even run up and down the stairs, then follow the quick sitting relaxation sequence before resuming study.

Incidentally, there is another technique you can use when you start to feel panicky. It is called the "stop technique". This could be particularly useful on the morning of a written exam, or just before you start your assessment of the patient in your clinical exam.

The Stop technique

• Mentally say "Stop" to yourself. Let your breath go. Don't breathe in first.
• Take a slow gentle breath - not a big one.
• Let it go slowly with a leisurely sigh of relief.
• At the same time, drop your shoulders and relax your hands and face.
• If you have to speak, do so more slowly and in a lower register. If you have to walk, do so at a slower pace.

During this stressful period, it is especially important to keep yourself as well and as healthy as possible. Pay particular attention to eating well. It is very tempting to fill up on junk food, fizzy drinks and coffee, but remember these foods are very low in nutritional value and provide limited energy. It is much better to eat as much fresh fruit and vegetables as possible. Also eat balanced meals and snack on fresh nuts, seeds, dried fruit etc. Drink plenty of water.

Keep up with the exercise. Make sure you do some physical exercise at least twice a week and have a social life. You can do it all, if you remember to pace yourself properly.

Equally important is your attitude to your work. Have a positive outlook - don't waste time and energy worrying about what you haven't done - concentrate on what still remains to be done. If you are not sure of certain points, ask someone. Don't keep your worrying on your own.

Hopefully all these ideas will help you to approach your exams in a calmer and more confident manner. But if, after all this, and when the day of the exam arrives, you've been up all night cramming your mind with facts and your body with chocolate, coffee and Lucozade, don't worry. There should be another little voice in your head that says, "You always know more than you think you know". Trouble is do you believe it?

Good luck
Ros Edlin

Ros Edlin is a freelance stress management and relaxation trainer

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