You may have heard that stress negatively impacts on performance. You may have been told that if you are too stressed in the lead up to an important exam such as UCAT, you won’t do well. You may have been advised to look for ways to relieve your stress. While this may be true, in some cases trying to get rid of stress can actually cause you to become more stressed. A different approach, which might sound crazy at first, is to embrace your stress. The following three strategies will not only help you manage stress, but will also boost your UCAT performance.
Technique 1: Arousal reappraisal
Stress is an important evolutionary response to danger and is an automatic tool that takes over in the event of a threat. Stress responses help you run faster, see better and think quicker. Symptoms of stress include a quickened heartbeat, sweaty palms and butterflies in the stomach – all common feelings before a high-stakes test such as UCAT. Most students interpret these physical cues as meaning, ‘I’m nervous’, a message from their bodies that causes them to become even more anxious. Instead, arousal reappraisal is a strategy that helps you take stock of your physical state and deliberately choose to think about it in a different way. Reinterpreting ‘I’m so nervous’ as ‘I’m so excited’ or ‘I’m ready for this test’ or ‘I’m prepared for anything’ can allow you to turn your state of physiological arousal to your advantage. Use it to get pumped up for UCAT!
Technique 2: Gain some perspective
We often think of stress as something we have no control over. This is reflected in our language – we say, ‘I am stressed’ rather than ‘I feel stressed’. When we strongly identify with an emotion such as stress, it can become part of our sense of self. It is important to remember, however, that stress is a bodily response to a feeling about how we view our current situation. Stress is not always reality.
Try rephrasing the stress from ‘I am stressed’ to ‘I am in a situation which requires me to take an important test. I am having the feeling that I am stressed and my body is responding accordingly.’ Once you step back, even just a little bit, you will gain valuable perspective. Rather than fighting your stress, acknowledge it for what it is – a reaction to how you view a particular situation.
Technique 3: Understand why
It is useful to think about why you are stressed, and where your stress comes from. Take a few moments to consider and write down the reasons for your stress. What are you worried about? Are you fears justified? Is anything or anyone making your stress worse? What impact does stress have on you? What do you tell yourself when you’re feeling stressed, and does it help or hinder you? Doing this will help you understand the causes of your stress, and work towards addressing them.
Contrary to popular belief, ‘stress relief’ may not be as easy as we think. Rather than fighting stress, try embracing it. Remember, stress prepares you for battle, pumping you up and increasing your levels of success. Use it to your advantage!