Coping with Exam Anxiety

Learning how to relax is important if you are going to successfully navigate final exam season. Effective, self-help techniques are going to be very useful in the run-up to the exams, and even when you’re sitting in the exam room.

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Breathing techniques

Stress can make you start breathing with quick, shallow breaths and make your heart beat faster than usual. If this happens, sit down somewhere comfortable, if possible.

Khorog yoga class stretching and slowing down

Place one hand on your stomach and check how quickly you are breathing. If it’s one breath every couple of seconds, take a deep breath and start counting steadily. Breathe out slowly and try to get the last of the breath out on about five seconds. To bring down anxiety, your out-breath should be longer than your in-breath.  Carry on doing this until you are doing it naturally and you feel your body and mind relax.

Clench your fist five times

and then make an 0 with your thumb and forefinger

Clench fist, relax, make O and train your body for relaxation

Clenching and releasing your fist  helps the muscles relax and also helps you to learn to feel the difference between tension and relaxation.  Once you have made the O with with your thumb and pointer finger, imagine a warm wave of relaxation moving down your arm and with each breath let the warmth spread all the way down your body.  If you do this regularly, you will train your body/mind so that every time you make the  “O”  your body will respond with a relaxation response.

When you are in your exam, you can secretly make the O to remind yourself to relax your body and mind so you can bring your best thinking to the task.

Grounding and Visualizing

  1. Long, slow spiral out breath – – imagining stress and worry is leaving through your IMG_6859breath  and your energy is going deep into the earth like roots that ground you.
  2. Fully drop and relax your jaw and shoulders.  Imagine they are warm and heavy and relaxed.
  3. Imagine yourself walking into your exam feeling relaxed and confident.  Picture yourself doing your very best and accessing everything you know about your subject.  Imagine yourself looking at the test and using positive self-talk to say to yourself:

    “Slow down. Read all directions and questions carefully.  Take your time. You can do this.  Focus and just do your very best with each question.”

Relaxation routine

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    Dr. Guljahon at the end of a relaxing yoga session.

    Close your eyes and breathe slowly and deeply.

  • Locate any areas of tension and try to relax those muscles; imagine the tension disappearing
  • Relax each part of the body, from your feet to the top of your head
  • As you focus on each part of your body, think of warmth, heaviness and relaxation
  • This  can also help if you are having trouble falling asleep.
  • Some gentle yoga and stretching can also help lower your heart rate and calm your mind.

Mindful Moments

Mindful of Naryn snowy beauty

Consciously slow yourself down so you
notice the colours and sounds around  you.  Take some long, slow breaths of fresh air.

  • When you walk  into your exam, slow down to feel your breath and your feet on the floor.  Wiggle your toes so physical reality calms your racing mind.
  • Taste your food. Listen to music with full attention.  Look out the window and appreciate the beauty of your surroundings. Practice being aware and present for the present moment.  Anxiety is all about worrying about the future, so just settling into what is real in this moment helps calm your mind.

Physical activity

Khorog girls football team playing hard and winning their first game.

Regular exercise is an excellent way of coping with stress. As little as 10 or 20 minutes a day spent walking, cycling, or at the gym can make a big difference. Blood flow to your brain from cardio exercise helps give you energy and releases some of the build up of  the cortisol and adrenaline stress hormones.


 Eat well. Sleep well    –  so your brain can function at its best.  If you can keep to regular sleep routines even through the crazy study times, it will help your brain access what you know, so your exam marks reflect your true understanding of the material.


Welcome your stress like an old friend . . . . .  “hey there stress – you’re back again.  I feel you in my stomach.  Please help me to do my best.  Let’s work together!”

It sounds bizarre, but see if you can have moments of welcoming your stress instead of tensing and being afraid of it.  Hopefully you can find the sweet spot where it is giving you an edge, but not swamping you.  Stress can work  to energize you and it can fuel a sense of aliveness!

Here is Kelly McGonigal’s startling Ted-Talk on how to embrace your stress response:

And finally – keep in mind that each assignment, each exam, each task crossed off your list is one baby step towards your bigger goals :

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What keeps you going when life as a student seems overwhelming?

Finding Balance while hiking in the rugged Pamir mountains

How do you find the right balance of stress, relaxation and confidence?  What secrets do you have to share that will help others get through these last days of the term and final exams!

Finally – if your stress is really difficult for you to handle by yourself, talk about it to someone – a friend, room-mate, staff member.  Don’t keep all the stress and negativity inside!

Khorog Social Safety Net social workers and counsellors talk about their feelings and how they deal with their work stress.

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