The Fit Student – Performing Under Pressure, Part II

I love to curl up to a book about relaxation and stress management techniques. Finding a book on relaxation, I find myself peering at yet another trophy for my growing library. I am prone to anxiety. Interestingly, talking to people about anxiety, I always marvel at how many others experience extreme bouts. These people are high-rollers, too. Some work as general managers in large retail chain stores. Some work as directors in global hotel chains. Some work behind the Starbucks counter. What is in common? All of these people had to learn how to manage anxiety in their high demand positions. (Yes, a barista is a high demand position, although the pay doesn’t suggest as such.)

Containing some of the best strategies that I have yet to encounter, Hendrie Weisinger and J. P. Pawliw-Fry wrote a marvellous read titled Performing Under Pressure: The Science of Doing Your Best When It Matters Most. The kind of stress management they discuss pertains not only to athletes, to musicians, and to business people, but also to students staring at a deadline at three a.m. the night before.

The book Performing Under Pressure overflows with strategies and ideas for handling performance anxiety. So, let’s delve in straightaway.

See Fearful Events as Exciting
Some people dread public speaking. I pursued a Communications degree namely for the public speaking opportunities. In junior high school, I performed in plays, once as the lead female role, and the idea of performing in front of an audience appealed to me. In essence, seeing public speaking as a thrill, I created a buffer against the anxiety that often creeps in with such events.

Wisely, Hendrie Weisinger and J. P. Pawliw-Fry argue for you to view pressure moments as opportunities, as adventures, as excitement. They say that “feeling challenged is an inherent performance steroid” (p. 112). In other words, try to make that scary paper exciting.

Downplay the Relevance
I had to attend to an assignment recently, and I feared that I wouldn’t get it done on the day I had intended. As a result, anxiety gripped me, controlled me, distracted me for hours on end. The next day, when the anxiety had passed, I attended to the assignment. It took all of ten minutes to finish. Unnecessary suffering.

Hendrie Weisinger and J. P. Pawliw-Fry say that assigning a lot of significance to an event increases our anxiety levels. The next time you have an exam or interview, see it as less important, as “no big deal.” Convince yourself that your grades aren’t that relevant in the grand scheme of things; instead, “be mindful of what is most important in your life” (p. 117). Your anxiety will lessen, and your marks may just improve.

Develop Your Self-Esteem
My next article will delve more into the benefits and how-to of developing self-esteem. It will focus on Rick Hanson’s book titled Just One Thing: Developing a Buddha Brain One Simple Practice at a Time. Hanson says that any suffering that has no positive outcome for yourself or others is unnecessary suffering, so don’t indulge. When your self-esteem soars, you create a buffer against stress and anxiety and your daily life enriches, not just for yourself, but for others around you.

“Acknowledge the experience, skills and positive qualities you possess”, writes Weisinger and Pawliw-Fry (p. 121). When you take note and pride in your self-worth, your tendencies to make errors declines. Thus, every day, dwell on your strengths. Think them through. List them on paper or in MS Word. Savour them.

Think in Depth on When You Performed Like a Rock Star
Have you ever had a time in life when you performed like a rock star? When you shone like no one else? When you had everyone eating out of your hands for some great feat you completed? I’m certain that something in your life stands out as monumental, inspirational, or pivotal; somewhere in your life experiences, you achieved the great. You made a difference. Think about those moments.

When beginning to write an essay or preparing for an upcoming exam, how can you get into the rock star mindset?

So that your resilience spikes, Weisinger and Pawliw-Fry say to focus on your past successes. The more you boost your confidence, the less you feel uncertainty or anxiety. Make a list of all of your successes and spend some time dwelling on them, enjoying the memories, deepening them in your psyche.

Listen to Music
Music can lessen any tension. I love to listen to Kelly Clarkson’s resonant voice, especially her song that plays off the expression What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. After a stressful day, no other music inspires me the same way. I love studying to music for more qualitative as opposed to quantitative courses at the University. Putting on an inspirational song with a lively beat can motivate you to run that extra length, write with passion, or pump yourself with adrenaline for that next exam.

Prudently, Weisinger and Pawliw-Fry suggest you listen to music to distract yourself from anxiety before a big event, such as an exam. The music detracts from any worrisome thoughts that might arise. Be wary, however, music during intense study sessions, such as math study bouts, can interfere with performance.

Journal Your Feelings
Journaling is a practice that Athabasca University’s very own Dr. Dron implements in his classes in the form of reflections, otherwise known as journaling. The benefits of journaling range from self-healing to writing improvement to letting go of duress. How would you feel if I told you that by journaling, you can even improve your grades?

Journaling my weight loss regime, I lost twenty pounds since this past December. The likelihood of success in goal achievement increases with journaling. I’ve also begun a writer’s journaling project, according to the advice of Patricia Goodson in her book Becoming An Academic Writer. According to Goodson, your writing can turn prolific when you chart your sessions and journal your thoughts. However, I’ve never found success journaling with emotional hurts. I prefer to focus on the achievements and successes of the day.

So, what do you do when faced with exam pressure? Journal.

I love Hendrie Weisinger and J. P. Pawliw-Fry on writing about your concerns. If you are stressed about an exam, write your thoughts and feelings down. By writing these out, your anxiety will abate, your exam marks will skyrocket, and your worries will lessen. Research supports these findings.

Take care of your stress level, and your grades will follow.

Weisinger, Hendrie, & Pawliw-Fry, J.P. (2015). Performing Under Pressure: The Science of Doing Your Best When It Matters Most. New York, NY: Crown Business.