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LEARN TO RELAX

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					Handout 1                        Dealing With Stress

STOP! An emergency quick relaxation technique

Remember that mental stress will lessen when you relax muscles. This really does happen, even
when you may be in a situation where only partial relaxation is possible. Don‟t believe that you
are the sort of person who can never relax. You can. Everyone can to some degree, but strong
feelings of tension make relaxation difficult especially if they are allowed to build up. So
recognise your feelings of tension (even if these seem to you to be weird or alarming). Accept
them for what they are. Use the STOP! technique to lower the arousal and bring it back to
manageable limits. Do this before it gets out of hand.

Say STOP! to yourself (out loud if the situation permits)
Breathe in, and hold it briefly
Breathe out slowly, relaxing SHOULDERS AND HANDS
Pause
Breathe in again
Breathe out slowly, relaxing FORHEAD AND JAW
Stay quiet for a few seconds
Carry on with whatever you were doing. (If you have to talk, speak a little more slowly and with
your voice a little lower than usual).

This STOP! relaxation can usually be done, without anyone noticing. You will find that, in spite of
your feelings, the tension will lesson.


Handout 2                                Centering

Centering is a way of giving yourself some of the benefits of relaxation when you don‟t have the
time or opportunity to lie down for a full relaxation session. Once you become familiar with it,
you can take a few minutes at a convenient point in the day to reduce the build-up of stress and
tension and restore your energy. It can be of value before you go into a situation which you
anticipate will be stressful, e.g. a meeting. You can also adapt it for situations where you have to
sit and wait, e.g. on a bus or train.

Sit with your feet flat on the floor, legs uncrossed, your arms comfortably supported on your
legs. Let your shoulders drop and move apart and check that your lumbar spine is long. Allow
yourself to receive the support of the chair and the floor.

Let your eyes close. Listen to the sounds you can hear outside the room, and to sounds inside the
room. Then take your attention inside yourself. Notice the thoughts passing through your mind.
Notice how you are feeling. Go through your body from your feet right up to your head,
observing the sensations in the different parts – feet, legs, pelvis, chest, back, hands, arms,
shoulders, neck, head, face. Notice sensations of warmth, coldness, lightness, heaviness,

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stillness, restlessness, any places where you feel pain or discomfort.      Observe your breath
moving in and out.

Without any forcing take a deeper breath so that your belly fills like a balloon. Exhale slowly and
completely. Repeat a couple of times, and then return to normal breathing.

Again listen to the sounds you can hear in the room and sounds from outside the room. Start to
gently move fingers and toes, do any other moving, and stretching that feels good, and when you
feel ready, open your eyes.



Handout 3                        Dealing with Exam Panic

Panic in exams is unpleasant, can be frightening and interferes with effective work. The ideal
way to deal with it involves preparation well in advance.

Hints are given:
           to avoid getting into panic
           to cope if you do panic

What is Exam Panic?
At some time or other most people experience panic and when this happens we notice changes in
our body. These are a series of physical and emotional responses to excess anxiety or strain.
The responses interfere with the achievement of immediate tasks.

In an exam     we may notice some of these bodily changes:
               we feel sick
               hands are sweaty and tremble
               we feel alternately hot and cold
               we are breathing quickly and shallowly
               the stomach is churning

We may also experience the following mental changes:
         we can’t concentrate
         our thoughts are blocked or racing
         our memory has been “wiped”

The effect is that we can no longer work and the longer we sit looking at the paper the worse we
feel.

When Does Anxiety Become Unhelpful?
We all need a certain amount of stress to make us embark on tasks and want to perform well.
Most people have experienced the “buzz” that comes from the anticipation of tackling and
achieving difficult goals. Generally speaking, that alert, excited feeling disappears if the task

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feels overwhelming, if we feel under prepared, or if we can‟t wee the purpose of what we are
doing.
Avoiding Panic
Ideally, we should explore ideas for avoiding and dealing with exam panic before we get into a
possible tense situation and build these ideas into our daily life-style. In the long term, the best
way of avoiding exam panic is to start preparing weeks ahead, with a helpful work routine, good
revision strategies and reliable practical arrangements.
However, despite our good intentions, we often don‟t prepare well and enter exams feeling
unhelpfully stressed and in a panic. The following notes may help you to cope with such feelings
if they occur.

Stage 1
If you think panic is starting, allow yourself up to 5 minutes to deal with it. You probably feel
tense, so concentrate on trying to relax some muscles, and use breathing to calm down.

(See STOP! An Emergency Quick Relaxation Technique)

This may be all that you need to solve your problem, if you are feeling a generalised tension, but
if this is insufficient, go on to Stage 2, and if necessary to Stage 3.

Stage 2
Once you have calmed down, you might want to suck a sweet or glucose (particularly if you feel
light-headed or nauseous). Then try to define the immediate trigger of anxiety. Is there a
different way of approaching the problem? If you are completely stuck, it might be worthwhile
attempting a new question, or a different stage of the problem question. Try not to think about
the actual panic, once you have acknowledged that it is there.

Stage 3
If panic persists or returns when you start thinking about its trigger, try again to relax your
muscles and breathing, and try to clear your mind of the problem – either by blanking it, or by
imagining something pleasant for a minute or two. Once your mind is relaxed, bring it back to the
immediate problem and just aim to do enough to get past the problem point, so that you are then
free to get on with other parts.


Handout 4                        Coping With Exams

Some Ways for Managing Stress

     Become knowledgeable about stress and its effects

     Anticipate your most stressful periods before exams and plan for them

     Take care of yourself physically with food, sleep and exercise


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     Choose a relaxation technique and use it regularly

     Take care of yourself emotionally – acknowledge and express your feelings to yourself and
      others. They may be feeling the same.

     Establish and maintain a support network

     Give yourself treats

     Take a positive attitude towards your exams

     Give yourself (and others) credit for things done well in the past e.g. essays, previous
      exams

     Study for shorter periods with breaks rather than for hours without interruption

     Give yourself permission to take time off to relax

     Review your study material systematically and work out your exam timetable and plan your
      time before, during and after each exam

     Practice writing exam answers

     Check the arrangements for the exam so you know the time and the venue

     Try to get a good night‟s sleep before each exam



Handout 5                        Anxiety and Exam Anxiety

Everybody suffers from stress and anxiety.
Everybody suffers from stress and anxiety around examination time.
Some people handle it better than others.
Why?
As somewhere along the line they have learned skills to cope with anxiety and stress.

How do I know if I am suffering from Stress?
Stress manifests itself in many forms. Some people suffer physical symptoms. Some suffer
mental symptoms and many suffer a mixture of both.
Some of the physical symptoms are, excessive tiredness, headaches, stiff neck, aches and pains
in the joints, blurred vision, dizzy spells, shortness of breath or a feeling that not enough air is
getting into your lungs, chest pains, palpitations i.e. irregular heart beat, indigestion, abdominal
pains often in different places and often in spasms, pelvic pains, painful periods, constipation, or
diarrhoea, clumsiness, nausea, pins and needles, and last but not least that sudden need to rush
off to the toilet to pass water.
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Emotional symptoms include tearfulness, mood swings, uncertainty, poor concentration, poor
memory, loss of confidence, loss of self-esteem, irritability, anger, fear of failure, panic, a
feeling that something dreadful is about to happen, inability to cope, inability to sleep.

We understand this because we have all suffered the same anxieties at some stage or another.

What to do?
There are several things that you can do to help yourself, not only in the short term but also in
the long term. Your brain can take lots of abuse but it needs rest, care and a little
consideration. For example your brain does no like working all day, studying all night then going
to bed after all that without so much as a bye you leave. It likes to be closed down, tucked in
and read a bedtime story and kissed goodnight.

How to kiss your brain goodnight?
Pack it in for the night! (study that is!)
Put on some quiet music i.e. Enya/classical etc (rap can probably be safely left out of this
category!)
Turn the lights off or at least the main lights
Sit in the middle of your floor
Now, can you remember any stretching exercise etc that you used to do for yoga, karate,
swimming, sports or any warm up exercises?
Stretches are what you want, so if you can‟t think of any - make them up. Well, try touching
your toes first, join hands behind your back, you will soon get the idea. If you have NO IDEA
then get a paperback “Yoga in 21 Days” book from the bookshops. Do it with a friend, maybe
they have more idea than you. It might even make you giggle which is quite good for kissing your
brain goodnight. Give it 15 or 20 minutes or so.
And consider a hot milk drink. Medical science in its wisdom has actually discovered what
everybody already knew in that hot milk makes you go to sleep. With any luck the stretches will
have relaxed your muscles, your brain has been nicely closed down and you can drift off to sleep
without drama.
Your brain does not particularly like being depressed and anxious, it tries to tell you this with all
the symptoms mentions above.
You need to anti-depress your own brain.

How to anti-depress your own brain?
There is no doubt that your brain has its own antidepressants. Clever biochemists have found
these chemicals and have called them endorphins. They come in various types it is suggested.
Positive (and negative) creative, happy, sad, fearful etc. Now you have already discovered what
triggers off the last one but you can also trigger off the positive, good feeling endomorphins
yourself. This can be done through meditation, yoga, sports, games, snow-fights and even
tickling if you like, but before you reduce your house-mates or flatmates to a hysterically
giggling wreck you might like to consider exercise. Twenty to thirty minutes exercise on a daily
or very regular basis will release positive endomorphins that make you feel better. It may take a
few days to take effect but it can be quite dramatic and it is good for you physically as well.
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Running, swimming, cycling, aerobics, squash, anything!! But do it regularly, get yourself addicted
to your own endomorphins after a few days and antidepress your own brain.

Do it…..it works
Medications
Hopefully you won‟t require these. They come in two forms.

1. Short term relaxants that help you sleep, but may affect your concentration and/or memory.
   We don‟t like having to use them but they can be very useful to get you over a crisis. There
   are also “anti panic” medications for the very immediate situation.

2. Longer term antidepressants are used when there are greater deep seated problems. They
   are slower to work, tend to have more side-effects and are not useful to get you over a crisis
   though can be excellent when prescribed carefully.

Psychiatric referral
If all else fails, there is quick access to psychiatric backup via Student Health or your GP. If
you feel your need is greater, then ask for referral. If they feel your problems are more serious
we may suggest referral.
You are not going to have a “nervous breakdown”.
You can do a lot to help yourself.



Handout 6                        Challenging Disabling Thoughts

We can support ourselves during times of stress and anxiety by talking to ourselves in an
affirming way. This includes reminding ourselves of our skills and resources. The following may
be useful, or help you to create your own supportive statements:

     I‟ve succeeded in exams in the past

     I have done a lot of revision

     I‟m not alone in finding exams stressful

     There are practical ways I can cope with anxiety

     Being a bit anxious is helping me to stay alert and get on with my revision

     I‟ll do better in the exams if I give myself proper breaks

     There are people I can turn to for advice and support




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Handout 7                                Don’t Panic!

One of the best antidotes to Panic is to feel confident that you are prepared for a situation and
will cope with it. Therefore, to avoid panic in exams, it is a good idea to start preparations
several weeks in advance. Below are some ideas of things to do at various stages – i.e.

1.      During the term before an exam
2.      During the week before an exam
3.      During the day before an exam
4.      On the exam day
5.      In the exam

1.      During the Term before an Exam
        a)    Decide what you must know – check the syllabus and know what you want to
              exclude/include. Look at old exam papers. Find out the standard required.
        b)    Analyse any problems/mistakes made in previous exams.
        c)    Improve exam style – develop an exam vocabulary, (i.e. know the difference between
              examine, explain and interpret). Improve the legibility of handwriting, if necessary.
        d)    Organise your notes about a particular topic, and include all sources – e.g. lectures,
              tutorials, practicals, own reading. Make revision “key cards”. Learn to use skeletons
              spider, mind maps if appropriate.
        e)    Discover your ideal revision environment – the best place, the most productive time
              of day, etc. Find out what your attention span is, plan revision around this. Keep a
              diary of work accomplished.
        f)    Get adequate relaxation. Learn relaxation techniques if necessary. Consider the
              benefits of physical exercise, a reasonable diet, adequate sleep and a routine.

2.      The Week before an Exam
        a)   Check the structure of the exam paper – multiple choice or essays, number of
             questions to attempt, marks value of each and therefore the time to allocate to
             each.
        b)   Revision. Vary subjects and their difficulty as you don‟t get bored or disheartened.
             Set realistic targets of what to achieve in the hours available. Spend as much time
             on recall as on reading material. Practise answers in exam conditions.
        c)   Take preventative action on predictable health problems, e.g. to avoid allergies,
             period pains, stress headaches.
        d)   Try to avoid additional stress – e.g. don‟t end a relationship or see the bank
             manager.

3.      The Day before an Exam
        a)   Check date, time and place of exam and arrangements to get there.
        b)   Check equipment needed for exam.
        c)   Review revision cards. Don‟t attempt to learn new material.

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        d)      Think through the exam situation – a mental rehearsal – and review strategies to
                adopt if disaster strikes.
        e)      Use relaxation techniques to ensure adequate sleep the night before. Avoid foods
                that might lead to digestive upset the next day.

4.      The Exam Day
        a)   Stick to normal daily routine as far as possible
             If you can‟t eat beforehand, take glucose or sweets in case you get “light-headed” in
             the exam.
                If necessary reduce liquids to avoid dashes to the bathroom from the exam.
                Use relaxation techniques.
        b)      If good for your confidence, briefly check revision cards to confirm your recall
                ability.
        c)      Plan your journey to arrive on time. Take a watch.


5.      In the Exam
        a)    Read right through the paper, plan your time, decide priority order of questions and
              plan your answers. Ensure answers are relevant. Don‟t waste time being stuck, but
              change to another answer. Attempt the right number of answers (more marks are
              gained in the first half of an answer than the second). If time at the end, check
              over your work.
        b)    If you panic in the exam, allow yourself a limited amount of time to use
              relaxation/breathing control techniques to calm down. Don‟t indulge yourself by
              thinking about the panic. Aim at getting on with the next answer, or part of it, not
              at finishing the exam. Put into play strategies rehearsed in your planning for the
              exam.



Handout 8               The Weeks before the Exams
                        Strategies for Coping with Stress

     Lifestyle
      Try to balance your work and your time off.

      You need some time off every day

      Try to take some exercise at least every other day preferably every day. (This helps you
       “switch off” mentally, relaxes body tension and feel more alert)

      Try to “switch off” mentally at other times. Do this by doing something absorbing. Watch
       out for disabling thinking e.g. everyone else seems well organised and able to cope, while I
       am struggling and challenge this, e.g. I have done a lot of revision.


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       Try to stop working an hour before bedtime. You may find it useful to do some muscular
        relaxation. Many people find this useful and its effectiveness improves with practice.

       Try to avoid excessive last minute revision just before the exam. This is often more
        muddling than helpful.



Handout 9                        Ideas for Managing Your Time

The following points are suggestions, some of which you may find useful.

1.       Plan ahead – be clear about what you intend to do during the term and when you will do it.

2.       Write “To Do” lists. Use them to remind yourself of how much you have managed to
         accomplish rather than how much there is still to do.

3.       Break down complex tasks into manageable chunks and reward yourself when you complete
         a “chunk”.

4.       At the start of a study session, decide on a time limit for the session and which tasks you
         will tackle. Build in breaks, e.g. every 30 minutes.

5.       Notice how your energy level varies at different points in the day. Tackle more demanding
         activities when you are fresh, and use lower energy times to do routine things, e.g. filing
         your lecture notes

6.       A comfortable working environment makes a big difference. Identify the place or places
         where you work best, e.g. the library, at home.

7.       Create a system for storing your notes, handouts, essays etc. Keep materials relating to
         the same topic together.

8.       Notice procrastination. Allocate a definite time period, e.g. 30 minutes for making a start
         on the more demanding task which you have been putting off.

9.       Learn to deal with interruption. Make clear to others when you are busy studying and
         when you are available for other things.

10.      All of us get stuck sometimes. Recognise when you need to seek advice on your studying
         and approach fellow students, tutors, lecturers or your Director of Studies.




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Handout 10
STRESS-FREE EXAMS – THE SIMPLE SOLUTION

“… it was appointed that no scholar should be graduated at the publick laureation except he come in
timously, at least a fortnight before, that he may undergoe due examination and other things necessary…”
(At the Kings College, on Monday the 6th of July 1685, convened in the principalls chamber the principall
and maisters)”.

“Don‟t panic! Don‟t panic!” (Lance-corporal Jones, Dad‟s Army, BBC TV)

There isn‟t a simple solution. Exams, for most people, are stressful; the question is to what extent the
stress can be reduced. The answer: a fair bit, actually.


Some “Do’s”
Last minute revision is what everybody swears they won‟t do, or (for the few smart Alecs or Alexes) what
they do as a matter of course, simply to ensure the good mark of which they are, of course, entirely
confident of attaining. Use the time well.

Do think about the structure of the exam – multiple choice, essay, number of questions to attempt, the
value of each and therefore the time to allocate to each.

Do vary the time and subjects in your revision, to avoid becoming bored or disheartened; set realistic
targets of what you can achieve in the time available; spend as much time on recalling information as on
reading material – perhaps even practise an answer in exam conditions.

During revision time, try to avoid other sources of stress if possible (don‟t end a relationship, for
example, or decide to visit your bank manager). Take a break now and again, listen to music, read a
magazine, go for a short walk. Finally, don‟t kid yourself that you‟re revising when you‟re not.

Before the first exam, check the details (when it is and where it is, e.g. Elphinstone Hall or the Beach
Ballroom), have a “mental rehearsal” of the exam. Try to get a good night‟s sleep, avoid a hangover during
the exam. Leave in good time, make sure you have the equipment you need (e.g. a spare pen); check your
watch is accurate.

At the exam, read the paper, plan your time, decide on the priority of questions, plan your answers (and
ensure they‟re relevant to the question). If you get „stuck‟, don‟t waste time – move on to another answer;
aim to attempt the correct number of answers (the theory is that more marks are earned in the first half
of a question than the second) and check over your work at the end if you have time.

For many people, Exam panic is a reality – not simply stress due to insufficient work before the exam, but
a mental and, often, physical reaction to stress. The result is often that the person is overwhelmed and
simply sits staring at the exam paper, feeling worse as the stress deepens. One aid is the “Stop!”
technique, which many people find effective.

Stop!
An emergency quick relaxation technique, even at the point of panic at seeing the exam paper: remember,
mental stress will lessen when you relax your muscles. Everyone can relax, at least to some degree, and
allowing the tension to increase makes relaxation more difficult: try this. Say, “Stop!” to yourself (out

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loud if the situation permits): breathe in, hold it briefly, then breathe out slowly, relaxing your shoulder
and jaw. Stay quiet for a few seconds, then carry on (if that involves talking, speak a little more slowly
and lower your voice slightly). The Stop! Relaxation technique can be done without anyone noticing and
you‟ll find, despite your initial feelings that the tension will lessen.

Celebrations
Finally, the chances are that you‟ll want to rejoice after your last exam. A natural reaction but not really
the relaxing experience you might imagine, for a variety of reasons, especially if that involves sinking
more than a few drinks. It‟s not relaxing for those who have yet to have their last exam – in your flat or
your Hall of Residence – if you return joyfully (and almost certainly noisily) at an unearthly hour of the
morning; it‟s not relaxing, either, for the citizens of Aberdeen to be serenaded by the phalanx of voices
apparently test-driving a mobile karaoke in the early hours.

Finally, for those of us who live in Old Aberdeen, exam time can also be very stressful. It‟s likely to
involve loss of sleep for our families (even an imagined lullaby at two in the morning tends to be loud and
disruptive), additional hassle the morning after, whether searching for and recovering missing wheelie-
bins, or even having to pay for damaged fences and hedges in the aftermath of what can almost certainly
be put down to post-exam “fun”. What seems a merry jape in the early hours, after post-exam
celebration, is often infuriating, mindless vandalism for those who have to deal with its aftermath:
consideration for your fellow students and fellow citizens will assist considerably in reducing stress for
them.
Good luck to all, for success in exams – and reduced stress beforehand.




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