His palms are sweaty, eyes weak, books are heavy
There’s coffee on his sweater already, last-minute study
He’s nervous, but on the surface he (doesn’t) look calm and ready
To ace exams, but he keeps on forgettin’
What he wrote down, the writing time has started now
He opens the paper, but the words won’t come out
He’s chokin’, how, everybody’s jokin’ now
The clocks run out, times up, over, blaow!
At some stage or another, most of us at the University have been in the same situation as the person in the totally original (not lyrically appropriated) poem above. Earlier this week as I walked into my Company Law tutorial, I was met with the sounds of REM’s classic banger It’s the end of the world in response to our upcoming exam. As my delightfully astute lecturer said, one exam or assessment may make you feel this way, but it’s not. And he’s right.
Failing to meet your expectations on an assessment isn’t the end of the world. It’s barely a blip in the grand scheme of things. But it’s easy to begin catastrophising in response to disappointment i.e. ‘If I only get a credit in STAT1070, there’s no way I’ll ever get a good job’. So how can we avoid doing this?
Keep things in perspective
As my mum would say, “stop making mountains out of molehills”. (Aside: Wtf is a molehill?). While this is easier said than done, often it helps to look at the big picture. Will only getting a mark of 60% REALLY stop you from getting that dream job? Employers nowadays look at more than just your GPA; they also place equal importance on your emotional intelligence and relevant experience.
Beware the risk of perfectionism: a tendency to set standards that are so high they either cannot be met, or can only be met with great difficulty or cost. The key thing you need to remind yourself is that self-worth isn’t directly linked to your academic achievements. The University Counselling Service also recommend adjusting your definition of success. For example, would you expect your friends to meet the same expectations you hold for yourself?
Rather than self-criticise, in the face of adversity try self-compassion instead. Know that you did your absolute best, and celebrate the small wins rather than the losses.
Set yourself small, achievable goals
Setting yourself a huge goal like ‘I want a job a top-tier Sydney accounting/banking/law firm when I graduate’ can seem unachievable. Write down what your small goals are which will lead you to that. By doing so, it will help keep in perspective what it is you need to achieve. That may be work experience, placement, doing some international study or getting more extracurricular activities under your belt.
SANE Australia recommends if you start finding yourself catastrophising, write your worries down. A previous negative outcome doesn’t dictate the future. Just because you stuffed up one assessment doesn’t mean you won’t do well in the next one. By putting your stress onto paper, you can start to challenge those anxious thoughts. For example, ask yourself ‘what’s the probability that what I’m scared of will actually happen’? Brainstorm other possible outcomes (i.e. not a complete disaster) and come up with solutions.
Give yourself a break
Say it with me: self-care. You can’t be a superhero all the time. If you’re anything like me, when I’m in the midst of study hell I start to find myself thinking anything which isn’t study is a waste of time. Sleeping? Could be studying. Make dinner? No time. Exercise? YOU BETTER BELIEVE THERE IS NO TIME FOR THAT.
But the thing is, engaging in simple activities like going for a run, having a bath, eating healthy or getting amongst the fresh air can help reduce anxiety and take your mind of stress-inducers. More time studying doesn’t necessarily mean better work. Actually, your productivity will deteriorate if you only study and work. So really, making time to do the things you love will help you succeed in the future!
Talk to someone
One of the best self-care tips you can put into practice is talking to a friend. By just letting off some steam, not only do you get to vent all of that built up stress, but you can also organise your thoughts which may present the issue more clearly. Sometimes a friend may also be able to offer a new point of view you may not have considered. Or even something as simple as a shoulder to lean on.
This is something which works both ways. If one of your friends, or even just someone you know, looks like they’re struggling, start a meaningful conversation with them. They may not be looking for your help (and it’s important not to instantly try and fix the problem), but a listening ear and your support will mean the world.
If you feel like you have no one to talk to, the Counselling Service is an excellent (and free) resource! Professionally trained psychologists and social workers are available for one-on-one appointments at online. These sessions are entirely confidential for you to discuss any personal or study-related issues.
Just because something seems like the end of the world right now doesn’t mean that it is. Think back to 5 years ago, you were a vastly different person with completely different concerns. Take it one day at a time and keep your head up, you have the whole University behind you.