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The most common concern of students is a fear of failure or of not performing to their desired level of achievement. Many students fall in a heap when exams approach because they are worrying excessively about the results of the examinations.
Students can decrease their level of anxiety by learning how to relax and gain more mental control. If you develop an effective way of keeping mental control and staying calm then your body will respond similarly (Orr 1988, p.97). Learning to relax is a skill that can be mastered with practice. Once you have mastered the technique you will be able to induce a relaxed state quickly and easily whenever you need to and in any situation.
This technique can be used at any time and any place.
Practise: it will take daily practice for several weeks to develop the skill to induce a relaxed state when required. Two 10 to 15 minute sessions, one in the morning and one in the late afternoon or early evening, would be ideal.
Expect to relax: develop the positive expectation that you will relax.
Find a place: where you won’t be interrupted by telephone calls or people.
Make yourself comfortable: sit in a comfortable chair or lie down. Loosen any tight clothing around your neck or waist.
Focus on your breathing: close your eyes and focus your attention on your breathing. Take in a deep breath counting slowly to four, hold to another count of four. Then slowly breathe out saying “relax” to yourself, letting all the tension go as you do so. Continue breathing slowly in and out to the count of four saying “relax” as you breathe out. Expel from your mind any problems or concerns. Think only about your breathing and the release of tension in your body as you release the air. Picture the tension flowing from you.
You can deepen your level of relaxation by fixing your mind on a relaxing scene. Choose a scene that you have experienced as quiet and relaxing, e.g. a long stretch of beach where you can only hear the sound of the surf, the seagulls and the breeze. In your mind, try to experience the warmth of the sun, the smell of the sea, the feel of the sand under your feet and the coolness of the water.
Another alternative is to use positive self-talk while in this relaxed state. Repeat a statement to yourself that will enhance your confidence in an exam situation, such as “I can study effectively and handle the exam calmly”, “I can learn to have control over the way I feel", “I can relax my mind and body and be in control”.
Come slowly out of this state of relaxation. Count from one to five, allowing yourself to become gradually more alert as you count. When you have reached five, open your eyes and stretch your arms and legs so that your body gently returns to a normal state before you get up and resume your daily routine (Orr 1988, pp.96-99; Orr 1992, pp.94-103).
This relaxation is based on the theory that physical tension leads to mental tension, which then leads to increased mental tension and so on. By breaking this cycle and physically relaxing, mental relaxation can be achieved as well. Progressive muscle relaxation teaches people how to relax as well as how to become aware of unwanted muscle tension.
In this technique you are asked to alternately tense and then relax specific muscle groups. The goal is for you to become aware of the difference between feelings of muscle tension and relaxation. Each muscle group is tensed for 5 to 7 seconds and then relaxed for 20 to 30 seconds, so that the difference between relaxation and tension can be experienced. The procedure is repeated for each muscle group.
Feel the heaviness throughout your body as you relax more and more deeply.
Follow the basic procedure but contract several muscle groups at the same time.