Put down the coffee


Giving tips on how to avoid anxiety during exam period is like pretending Dr. Samuel Johnson’s elaborate metaphors never existed – counter-productive and utterly futile. Of course you are going to have sleepless nights and suffer the tingling in your chest as each revisionless day and ill-advised marathon of lethargy flits you by and merges into one great big lump of life squeezing helplessness. What can I tell you to do that will stop those pre-exam nerves? Worship Odin? Drink Chinese marshmallow tea before revision and tell yourself you are a strong, confident person who does not need exams? If you don’t have an anxious spring, you’re probably missing out on one of the finer aspects of the ‘student experience’.

Photo by bottled_void

I can, however, use personal experience to tell you how to avoid suffering a full blown anxiety attack and winding up in A&E convinced that you are undergoing a life-threatening coronary seizure.

Indeed, a couple of weeks before writing this, I dragged myself to hospital and spent an hour on a nurse’s bed with shooting pains in my arms and chest, on the verge of writing a will and leaving my mother my £10,000’s worth of debt. This was the orgasmic culmination of many 40+ hour stretches of remaining awake to complete assignments (including this article, oddly).

So, why did I wind up in hospital and end up with almost two weeks (and counting) of heart palpitations?

It is, simply put, the all-nighter and its ingredients. An all-nighter is worth pulling off at least once for the joy in being awake for the sun as it both rises and sets.

If not caused by an underlying heart condition, the groundwork for palpitations is laid by caffeine. So, as cause and effect would dictate, pumping yourself full of energy drinks and pro-plus is like pointing a gun at your own heart and telling it you want to see it dance. The same can be said for repeated sleep deprivation – it works with the caffeine to panic the hell out of your ticker.

Eventually, you’re going to end up with that unusual sensation of being aware of your own heartbeat. Now, biology is cruel in the following way. We humans like to fear for the worst, and to us; palpitations equal a heart attack waiting to happen. The more you convince yourself of this, the more mischievous your body becomes – you’ll end up with the exact same sensations as a heart attack and have the wind knocked out of you for days when you recover – not really what you want when you’ve essay after essay after exam to submit.

Exam anxiety is fairly easy to handle, but not if your efforts to quell it (staying up, glued to books from dawn till dusk) backfire. Alternatively, you may survive such tiring slogs, and end up passing out in the middle of an exam when you have to vomit up everything you’ve been retaining for the past consecutive 85 hours.

Listen to your Uncle Ron: take it easy. Work during the day, for many days in advance of deadlines, go to bed at a reasonable hour. It seems obvious, but God, how I wish I was clever enough to do these things.

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