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Date of last update: 8/24/2017.

Forum Name: Psychiatric Topics

Question: Really effective stress management techniques

 Maskedmarada - Tue Sep 08, 2009 3:55 pm

I very much doubt that I would get much response from here, but it's worth a shot.

I have recently been taking an exam that is 4 hours long and I really have problems with stress. The stress has made me lost 20-30% of the marks that I would have otherwise got (I know because I have done quite a few practice tests where I have scored high 80s and 90s).

The stress hasn't really been a problem before since it was pretty much under control and had little influence over my marks. This recent exam had been a real test to me and I experienced all sorts of symptoms that I would have otherwise not experienced at all - this coming from a postgraduate who has spent about 20 years in education and undertaken many exams before.

The following are the symptoms I managed to recognise during the course of the day:

I was trying to look through some of the material to get my brain up to pace for the exam. However, I have found that not only I had failed to concentrate on the way there (I keep drifting off) but I keep getting mind blocks when I do try. In other words, I can't get my mind to look at the stuff.
I also feel like I was going to vomit after having breakfast; I suppose it was the butterflies in the stomach, but I never had the feeling before so I wouldn't know.

During the exam:
I started the exam calmly and clearly, remembering everything that I had learnt as well noting the pitfalls and weaknesses that I have. However, it then slowly and progressively got worse and I got a whole lot more tense as time went on.
Throughout the exam, I had to leave for 5 toilet breaks (not that I need them) and 2 occassions where I had to eat chocolate and drank water because I needed to calm down.

After the test, I have got my results and I experienced the whole rush of symptoms that you would associate with stress:
I started sweating
my throat got really dry really quickly
I started to do irrational things
I could barely string a sentence together to make sense
I started calling people to find ways of solving my problems, even though I know there was no rush
I had a hard time breathing
The only thing I could think about was the test
I got tense and lost my cool
I tried to rectify things by requesting a retake
I started to get very edgy even for the smallest of things
I almost got on the wrong train home
I started to notice things around me less and became less alert
I felt hot for no apparent reason
I could barely think clearly and get my act together - I started to miss things that are so obvious

All of this continued for 3-4 hours after the test. In a way, it's like a father worrying about the birth of his child (not as it is anything as nearly as nerve racking of course)

This is particularly odd, considering I am normally a person who is very chilled out and calm. A near death experience through several narrowly avoided car crashes did not feel this bad. During these narrowly avoided accidents, I was still able to remain calm and did the right thing. I also have little problems with public speaking, which would eliminate associations with most things.

I have tried the following methods before, after and during the test, but to no avail:
shifting the focus from your mind to the paper
positive mental reinforcement - apparently I am immune to self talk
lowering the emphasis on the end result and implications of the exam
deep breathing and taking moments to recollect yourself
detaching the end result of the exam from from the exam itself
pretended the test was like any other practice test
tried to think logically and remember all the pratices and training that I had
Take notes and disect the thing apart
Monitor my time
Try to recognise my feelings, observe that I have the choice of not feeling them and disconnect those feelings
Recognise excessive stress under such circumstances will not help you in the exam
Shifting my mind to the most effective trance possible (there is this trance that everybody goes into when they are on a role and it brings out the best in them. Unfortunately my stress inhibited me from getting to this, instead it made me delay time).

Do note, when I do use self talk, my brain says 'I will get top marks by the end of the exam', by mind on the other hand says, 'who do you think you're kidding with that attitude? Get cracking or you won't get what you need'

My mind also has a habit of ignoring any self realisations or advice I give myself. e.g. I realise and know that talking to people about retakes or getting worked up about it doesn't help the situation. However, my mind ignores that and keep letting my emotions flooding in and lead me to doing irrational things. As you can see, the stress is very likely to originate from an unconscious source.

I understand that there is something called emotional intelligence and I have read about it. I also have tried the techniques that they recommended - a few of which are mentioned above.

I also know that you do need a certain level of stress in order to keep yourself motivated, otherwise not only will you get too cocky but you will do yourself disfavours. However, too much stress can cost you more like I have explained in this post.

I have considered meditation, NLP and self hypnosis but I am a bit sceptical about the results.

Although I probably realise I am overanalysing or exaggerating the matter to make what should be a molehill is instead starting to look like a mountain, I would like to get this part of my life sorted asap. My lack of control over my stress had led me into a few pitfalls and minor problems before and it had got to the point where it has become so irritating it must be solved before I do anything else.

So my question is for all stress management experts, psychiatrists, psychologists specialising on stress management or someone with brilliant skills in managing their own stress is what I can do to make this stress less of a problem and calm myself even in the head of a crisis?
 Debra Van Ness RN - Mon Sep 21, 2009 7:14 pm

Just wondering if you have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder or panic disorder. What you are describing is more like panic attacks than just stress. You say you have tried just about every angle you know in order to calm yourself for focusing on the exam. Perhaps you need to actually see a doc and ask for a mild antianxiety med to take just before testing. Don't make that the very first time you take the med, however. Take it at least once at home, of course, in order to see how it affects you.
I answered your question because I have an anxiety disorder myself. I take a medication for it and it helps alot. If you choose not to want a drug which is a controlled substance, an old drug called Buspar has been around for a while and has been reported to help anxiety issues. That particular drug is taken daily and builds up in the system rather than a med which is prn. (as needed).
With test taking, I always did well in nursing school becuase I saw it as a challenge and a way to show what I learned. It was exciting to me in a good way. However, I sure understand that everyone is not the same when it comes to test stress.

Do you ever get anxiety attacks when not in the testing environment? It sounds as if this particular test had some lasting anxious affects on you. I have tried a technique called "guided imagery". You can look that up online and find information about it. Basically, it is taking the mind to another place which you can imagine yourself or it can be a place of peace and beauty you have seen before. You guide yourself to that place by slowly describing the imagined environment for yourself step by step. Also, I believe some video are available or audio which can help you with guided imagery. Of course you cannot go to another place in your mind during an exam, but perhaps at other times to calm yourself.

Best of luck,
Debra Van Ness RN

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