I had an exam yesterday which I was well prepared for. I downloaded the question paper and then my mind went blank, I had shortness of breath, I was nervous and I couldn’t even understand the questions. I began to cry in frustration. I have attempted to get support but the earliest psychologist appointment available is next Monday. I have an exam tomorrow, I have been receiving H1’s in all my assignments and I’m worried the same thing will happen.
Thanks for reaching out and contacting us. I’m sorry you had this awful experience during your exam, it sounds like your feelings were very distressing. The exam period is a very stressful time of year, and this year it follows the added challenges we have faced with the COVID-19 restrictions.
The symptoms you describe, such as shortness of breath and difficulty concentrating, are certainly signs of heightened anxiety. Although it is normal to feel nervous or experience some level of anxiety during exam time, there may be times when your anxiety interferes with your focus and concentration. There are several practical ways to help with managing your symptoms if they become overwhelming, such as relaxation techniques and reframing your thoughts.
One of the challenges with anxiety is that our breathing gets very short and shallow, and our brain then interprets this as ‘something wrong’, which of course makes us worry more. During exams, breathing exercises can be particularly helpful for managing anxious feelings and the physiological symptoms of stress. Most people benefit from breathing exercises. The great thing about them is that it only takes a few moments and can easily be done during exams to calm you down. When you notice you are feeling worried take a couple of moments to take a deep breath in, and then a slightly longer breath out.
It might also be helpful to be aware of any unhelpful self-talk that might be occurring during an exam. For example, thoughts such as, ‘I can’t do this’, or, ‘I’m going to fail’, can increase anxiety. Try replacing these unhelpful thoughts with something more encouraging such as “everything will be OK” or “everyone in my class is in the same boat.”
CAPS has several online resources that you might find useful when experiencing stressful situations; check out Exam Anxiety or Relaxation Techniques. Some other resources you may like to use are available through CAPS Student Resources, such as the mindfulness programs or our webinars on enhancing your learning. You may also like to book a free confidential appointment with a CAPS counsellor for further help with learning about how to manage stress and anxiety. You can book online or give our friendly reception staff a call of 8344 6927.
Thanks again for reaching out. I wish you all the best.