Exam Anxiety: How Visualization Can Help Reduce It

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Anxiety is something that unfortunately affects many students today, especially around exam time. It's horrible, stressful, and no one should have to experience it. Therefore, we've asked our friend and transformational coach, John Graham to write a guest blog for us and for you, so that you can understand what exactly is anxiety, and how to reduce or get rid of it through something called visualization.

How Visualization Can Lower Exam Anxiety:

At the end of this article, I’ll teach you a simple visualisation that can calm you down & give you more confidence before going into exams. Before that, let me explain a little about why visualization is such a powerful tool to practice.

What Is Anxiety?

The Oxford dictionary definition is “feeling or showing worry, nervousness, or unease about something with an uncertain outcome.”  Obviously, this can apply to so many parts of our lives. So many things are uncertain, how we perform in exams is one of them. We can do all the right things, but if we aren’t in the right headspace to perform, results can potentially suffer.

Where Does Anxiety Come From?

Well, in the definition I mentioned, ‘feeling or showing worry’. What is worry? A worry is a thought about a possible negative outcome. It’s a thought about the future, nothing more, nothing less.  We are only ever experiencing our thinking in the moment, not the thing we are worrying about. So, anxiety is an internal experience created by the thoughts we have about the result of the exam. Nothing to do with the exam itself.

If It's Just A Thought, Why Does It Feel So Real?

It feels real because our brains don’t make the difference between imagination and reality.  If we think stressful thoughts, the brain will start to produce ‘fight or flight’ chemicals such as adrenaline & cortisol.  This is why when stressed, we are at high alert, why our breathing might speed up, blood pressure goes up etc. If we think positive happy thoughts, the brain produces chemicals such as serotonin, which makes us feel good.

If a thought comes to your head, you experience the feeling that goes with that thought, and it can seem very real.  The more conscious you are of where your experience is coming from, the more you do something about it if you aren't feeling good. Whether it’s visualization, affirmations, mindfulness or meditation.  We are talking about playing with our imagination, nothing more, nothing less.

How Does Visualisation Work?

So, our thoughts are a little like the filters we use on Instagram.  Each thought can give a completely different experience of a situation.  With visualization, we are consciously picking the filter to give ourselves an experience that’s both beneficial in feeling good and performing well. Remember, our brains don’t differentiate between imagination and reality, so whether you believe this or not, our brain will produce the chemicals to go with the thought.

The more you practice it the more effective it will be. You are literally reprogramming the way you experience exams.

What if I can't visualise?

We can all visualize. For example, think about the front door of your house. Can you see it?  Then your visualizing! It doesn’t have to be super clear or vivid. Visualization can often be kind of hazy, but that’s OK. Whatever comes up for you will work.

Finally, here's a visualization to lower exam anxiety (if you actually do it):

Before you start this, give yourself a score on how anxious you feel. 10 being extremely anxious, and 0 being totally chilled. Don’t think too hard about it, just go with the number that seems right.

  1.  Find somewhere where you won't be disturbed and make yourself comfortable.  Then when you are ready, close your eyes.
  2. Now, imagine that stretching off in front of you is a timeline into your future.  It can be any colour you want, a colour you really like. A beam of clouding light stretching off into your future.
  3. Then imagine yourself floating up out of your body wherever you are when doing this,  and floating up above your timeline. Float along your timeline into the future until you get as far as 10 minutes after the exam. Everything has gone great for you & you did brilliantly.  The exam was a real success and you were great.
  4. Float down and into this future version of you.  When you're in this future successful version of yourself, notice how you would feel when everything has gone great.  Allow yourself to experience the emotions you might feel when everything has gone wonderfully.
  5. What would you see? Who would be around you after this great exam?  What might you hear in terms of what thoughts you're having or what others are saying to you, and you to them?
  6. Get a real sense of how it will be when everything goes really well!
  7. Then, look back along your timeline and find yourself in the present moment.  What sort of advice could the future you give the present moment you? Allow the future you to give a couple of pointers.
  8. When you have done that, float up, out of that future you and back above your timeline. As you float back to the present version of you, notice all the things you did to get to that successful place & who was involved.
  9. Finally float back into reality... Open your eyes & give yourself a score again on how you feel. Has the number gone down?

This only works if you actually do it. If you practice this daily, you will start to notice yourself feeling better pretty quickly.  No more than 5 mins a day is required. I hope you enjoy playing with your imagination and benefit from the positive results you will get in return.

John Graham is a Transformational Coach who helps a broad range of clients have an easier relationship with their thoughts and emotions. John currently works with a number of schools, helping students overcome worry and feel more happiness, calm & confidence. Allowing them to perform at their best no matter the situation.


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