Living@Guelph - Choose Your Own Adventure Living
Choose Stress Skills for Better Grades
By Kathy Somers, Stress Management Clinic

  • Have you ever had mental blocks when writing a test?
  • Have you walked out of the instructor's office or out of an exam room and then thought "...why didn't I say that or think of it 20 minutes ago?"
  • Have you ever worried so much about doing well in a course that you were immobilized by anxiety? That you couldn't concentrate? That you found it hard to sleep? That you had a panic attack? That you got a headache? That you threw up?

    Too much stress?
    Our body's response to stress impacts how we feel and think. The release of adrenalin, cortisol, and other corticosteroids is designed to make us feel alert, up, and excited. It can help us escape from danger and mobilizes us for a stronger performance. However, you can have too much of a good thing. Over-activation of the body's stress response (or "distress") makes us anxious, tense, headachy, nauseous, and creates mental blocks. The result can be illness or "choking" instead of thinking or acting effectively. To do your best and feel your best, remove excess stress and work with an alert mind in a calm body to meet the challenge.

    Caffeine, Nicotine, and Sugar are False Friends.....
    Some students try to work or think better by drinking more coffee or smoking more cigarettes - unaware that caffeine and nicotine mimic and increase the body's stress chemicals. If this increases your stress levels into "distress", then these drugs are not working for you but against you. Using alcohol, muscle relaxants, sleeping pills, and other drugs decreases creativity and decreases self-control over stress, cognitions, and physical/emotional states.

    More Effective Strategies.....
    Natural methods, without the use of chemicals, to decrease body levels of stress chemicals will provide greater self-control of creativity, concentration, problem solving, memory retention and recall. You will have an increase in energy, clear thinking, self-esteem, and wellness. There can even be a higher academic performance!

    How can you do it?

    A) You can naturally decrease excess tension through:

  • exercising regularly
  • eating a well balanced diet
  • avoid skipping meals
  • aughing heartily - it truly is good medicine!
  • getting a good night's sleep
  • controlling worry
  • confiding in someone you trust
  • managing your time and priorities effectively
  • being well prepared for the test/presentation
  • learning effective exam writing and oral presentation strategies (great information is available at the library's Learning Commons, or contact Learning Services, ext. 52302)

    B) You can learn skills to decrease stress and improve performance:

    Studies at American colleges discovered that students who practised "turning down" physical and cognitive tension levels prior to studying, increased their semester average (by 5 marks!). For twenty minutes before settling down to homework, they practised removing the tension from their studying and exam taking situations by using such techniques as :

  • muscle relaxation
  • diaphragmatic breathing
  • Autogenic Training
  • mental imagery to promote learning
    Regular practice of these strategies develops strong skills in stress reduction. As a result, these students were able to think more clearly, retain and recall better, and received higher grades. You can practice this approach too. You may learn about these techniques through books, cassettes, seminars, or at the Stress Management Clinic here at University of Guelph.

    C) Enroll in this semester's Relaxation and Stress Management Skills Training program by the Stress Management Clinic to develop strong skills:

    It teaches all of the techniques mentioned above, in addition to worry control and how to decrease stressful self-talk. Students continue to recommend this program to their friends because of the benefits they gain in decreasing headaches, managing anxiety, sleeping better, and working / thinking more effectively. For information about the program, pick up a Stress Management Clinic pamphlet at the Connection Desk or the Wellness Centre, visit website, or call the Clinic at ext. 52662.

    P.S. If you have left things until the end of the semester, don't panic. The Stress Management Clinic, in conjunction with Learning Services, also offers a condensed class called examSMART which presents some of the main ideas in a brief format for those stressful times at the end of the semester. For information about the examSMART class, call ext. 52662.

    "I never thought I could feel so good after leaving school for the day. I have energy and enthusiasm."

    "I find already I am more focused when doing school work."

    "It's surpassed my goals. The bodywork has been so, so useful. This program was helpful in eliminating the "what if's" and replacing them with "I'm doing the best I can". The information was invaluable and transferable to other areas (work, fitness). It was enjoyable!"

    "During my exam I stopped and did a short breathing techniques to quiet my mind and allow an answer I knew to flow back in.

    "I thought I could get some tips about studying, but even from the first examSMART class, I walked out feeling like I could actually handle my exams. I find that I'm looking forward to my exams because I don't see them as scary anymore, rather I see them as a challenge and something that I can do. I feel so much more in control about everything and if not on top of all my studies, at least I know how to approach my studying. It has helped me to put my academic life into its proper perspective. I honestly think that this is the best $20 I've ever spent on myself since I've been at school."