Exams, stress and pain tips
Exams, stress and pain tips ~ It is that time of year again when kids are preparing for their exams. With the emphasis on high grades reflecting success, the pressure on youth has increased. There is the sense that if they do not achieve all those ‘A’ grades, then somehow they are a failure. What a terribly damaging way to go about it, and indeed one of the major influences upon kids health. Levels of pain, anxiety and depression are on the rise. Social media also has a part to play, not the channels themselves per se but the way in which it is used and relied upon as a source of temporary reward ~ ‘likes’ etc. We can and must change this as a society.
One of the most respected and successful sports coaches of all time, John Wooden, made the key point that each person should be focusing upon what they can control and to do their very best. If your attentions are on doing your very best, you will be successful, for you. If you thinking drifts towards the grade ‘you must’ achieve, then your focus is not on doing your best, it is on the grade. Re-focus on doing your very best: maximum effort. Besides, if you are focusing on and doing your best, there is no worry or anxiety because you are doing. Those feelings only appear when we are thinking about being somewhere else, whilst embodying the feelings and hence suffering. That somewhere else is the past or future, and neither exist.
We can realise that this is not necessary as we learn to make other choices. Ask yourself: How am I choosing to feel? Could you choose to think about the situation in another way and feel better or good? Yes you can. Try it and see!
You could choose to think about something in life you face as a problem, that it is difficult, perhaps impossible or that your efforts are doomed to failure. How are you likely to feel? Or, you could choose to view the situation as a challenge, an opportunity to learn something and seek to find and practice ways to overcome the challenge. How would this feel? Very different. We feel better when we have understanding and a plan that we action because we are actually doing, and this includes writing a new inner dialogue or script. How are you pre-empting or expecting things to go? How often do they actually turn out that way? Well if so, why not water the seeds of positivity rather than anticipate the worst outcome or a miserable outcome? Re-frame your thinking that is always embodied, i.e. we experience our thoughts with our whole self including our bodies — where do you feel the feelings that you label as anxiety? They are remarkably similar to the feelings of excitement but which label are you choosing? Choose another and see what happens.
Here are some exercises from Mike Pegg on Positive Scripting: click here
The inner dialogue
What are you telling yourself? Are you listening? The two are different. You cannot stop thoughts popping in but you can choose what you do with them. The practice of mindfulness is a way of achieving this as you are aware and open to the different thoughts, feelings and emotions as they pass through rather than become embroiled.
Self-confidence relies upon the inner dialogue. No matter what you have achieved before, what you are telling yourself and listening to now is what determines your confidence. Create a positive script about what you can do and what you can control: my own thoughts, my own actions, where I focus, doing my best.
Developing insight into your own mind creates the opportunity to choose your direction. We are always changing, but which way do you want to go?
Some great reading on how to communicate with yourself and others: Thich Nhat Hanh
Movement and posturing
Movement and exercise are healthy. During periods of revision we need to move to nourish the body but also our thinking — the two are NOT separate but parts of you. Changing position, using some exercises, walking, jogging and other activities punctuated through the day help to keep the focus. Some exercise in the morning before starting, changing posture and position every 30 minutes or so and having a good break every 45-60 minutes can help to keep a certain freshness and concentration.
This is about performance and to perform we need to focus in the present moment. Refresh and renew then, are key ingredients.
Recharging and sleep
You need good sleep patterns for healthy functioning. Make sure you have a routine that you stick to through the exam period. Many important healthy activities occur during sleep, including a kind of physiological cleaning in the brain. When this does not happen we can feel groggy and moody the next day.
If you are tired, focus on mantras such as ‘I need energy’ rather than ‘I am tired’. We notice what is on our agenda and therefore by telling yourself that you need energy, you’ll be orientated towards this as a goal: regular healthy snacks, fresh air, movement, mindful practice, periods of relaxation.
Through the day we need to plug in. Refreshing yourself allows you to focus well for bursts of time.
Pain and stress are body (whole person) states due to a perceived threat
People come to see me because thus far they have not been able to recover from their pain problem. This is inherently stressful, which adds to the biological and behavioural mix resulting in on-going states of protect.
~ pain and injury are poorly related and are definitely not the same
Pain is about protection and not a precise guide for tissue health or state. This is the common misunderstanding that leads to ineffective treatments. Pain and injury are not well related and they are definitely not the same. Pain is a unique perception emerging in the person and belonging to the person. This is one of many we experience but it is a dominant feeling, as it should be, to motivate action in line with getting better.
Persistent pain involves many adaptations that include those in the brain (emotional, reward and emotional centres in particular), the way we perceive the world and ourselves, the way we make decisions, behave and the way we act. The world appears to be far more dangerous than it really is and the rating of threat is applied in normal circumstances, just in case. For example, sitting is not dangerous yet it is often associated with back pain. The body systems in weighing up the evidence and based on prior experience, deem sitting in a chair to be actually or potentially dangerous. It is the result of the weight of this evidence that manifests as pain in the area of the body deemed to need protection and awareness.
Overcoming pain is about changing this weighting of evidence by taking new actions (habits) based upon new thinking (understand your pain), beliefs and expectations.
During exam times there is usually a change in routine. More sitting, less exercise, and potentially more stress depending upon how the individual views the situation. For optimising performance, this must be addressed whether there is pre-existing pain or not.
It is common for pain to increase during times of stress and pressure. This is not because the tissue state changes greatly but instead the perception of threat is raised and hence protection more likely. We can also tend to anticipate certain relationships. For example: ‘sitting will hurt’, which can become a predominant thought pattern unless we work to create a new way forward. We are always changing, it is a matter of which way you choose to go.
Simple practices during exam times can make a significant difference. Starting with understanding your pain, you can choose to use the strategies mentioned previously that include regular movement, appropriate exercise, practicing a positive script, refreshing & renewing, together with mindful practices (that actually enable many of the others), deep relaxation, imagery and visualisation. Making a plan of which to use and when through the revision and exam timetable can make all the difference.
Pain Coach and Wellness Coach ~ to overcome life’s challenges, live well and perform