As this week was mental health week I wanted to reflect a little on stress and pressure.
As you will know the SQA exams are now well underway and this can be a time of considerable stress for pupils and their families. Indeed the press were reporting a rise in calls to childline about exam stress. Feelings of anxiety and stress around exams is, up to a point, not a bad thing. There is a lot of research to suggest that we all need a bit of stress/pressure to bring out the best in us. It helps us focus our mind, it forces us to practice and it gives us the opportunity to perform to an even higher standard than we thought possible. When we are able to cope with the pressure and harness the stress we pass the ‘test’ with ease – this is sometimes called being ‘in the zone’.
Harnessing the stress/pressure is not easy and when they get out of hand we see people struggle with self doubt and feelings of inadequacy. There are two aspects I want to highlight in this regard – preparation and expectation
- Preparation – sometimes people become almost obsessive about practice. Worrying yourself sick before a major test is not the answer – you need to focus your practice but also focus on keeping yourself calm for the day of the test.
- Expectation – Another big stress relates to the outcome “if I fail this it will be the end of the world”. Whilst I am all in favour of high expectations these can be a problem – particularly if we set unrealistically high targets. There is then the added problem caused by comparing ourselves to others or being compared to others – in my case it was an older brother and sister but it could be between ‘friends’ etc. It is a distraction (and an added stress) to focus too much on the outcome – focus on your performance on the day and let the outcome take care of itself.
Of course it is easy for me to say all of this – I am not the one doing the test. Well that is not completely true as I am this weekend putting myself under considerable stress and pressure. It is around 35 years since I have entered a race but a few months back my daughter and son decided to enter the Baker Hughes 10k to raise funds for Alzheimers Scotland. They asked if I would do it with them and in a moment of madness I agreed. So over the last two months I have been preparing. At times in training I ran a bit too far/fast (over prepared) and picked up an injury – the trick has been to prepare enough but to remain fit for the event. I have made my expectations realistic – from a running point of view it has been to be fit for the day and to get to the end. If I get a time of anything under an hour I would be delighted but if it takes me longer if I reach the finish in one piece I will be more than happy. I will certainly not win the race and the plan is to go at my own (slow) pace and not compare myself to others. It will be all about the one thing which I can control – my own performance on the day. Am I anxious – you bet I am and I am sure this anxiety will only increase as the day approaches. If that stress gets too much I could tense up, pull a muscle or loose sleep before the big day. I have to be confident that my preparation will see me through and to focus on being calm the day.
We also set a fund raising target and again this was and ambitious but realistic £500. We have found people to be incredibly supportive and generous (and I am sure any of you working for exams will find the same) so that particular target has already been exceeded. If you are one of those who have donated can I thank you – your support/backing has helped my motivation to practice and will certainly help me on the day. If you read this and want to donate to Alzheimers Scotland and/or put me under even more pressure/stress my daughter has set up our ‘just giving’ page at: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Rachel-Innes1