How to Overcome Stress & Ace Your Exams
The fast pace of modern living has some surprising trickle down effects, including an increased pressure on children to perform well since young age. Emphasis on cognitive skills, use of performance-measurement matrices, and competition encouragement begin quite early–often in the first years of the primary school education, and sometimes even at preschool levels. These high expectations from the parents, teachers and the society at large (including peers) act as strong, continued set of stressors on the student.
Science has confirmed that the resulting emotional stress has tremendous impact on the child’s long-term health, including the development of the brain and the nervous system. Scientific studies have confirmed that, when the education process leads to stressful emotions such as fear, anxiety and frustration, the autonomous nervous system (ANS) decreases its physiological coherence or balance.
When the highly-demanding learning environment is stressful for the student, the induced stress undermines the very outcomes it has been designed to promote—the acquisition of knowledge, skills and capabilities. This is because high level of stress often equates with decreased cognitive capacity. Dr. Rollin McCraty, the Vice Chairman and Head of the research team at the HeartMath Institute in California, eloquently sums up these risks:
“Sustained stress and negative emotions result in the desynchronization of brain and nervous system activity, which in turn inhibits higher cognitive processes necessary for functions such as attention, memory recall, abstract reasoning, problem solving, and creativity. Thus, when students come to school with high levels of emotional stress, the resulting ‘inner noise’ impairs the very cognitive resources needed for learning, memory, and effective academic performance.”
The grim reality is that this academic pressure not only persists throughout the student’s life, but even amplifies. And once the study years are over, the associated stressors do not cease to exist—they simply transform to a new set of challenges, associated with the pressure to excel in the new job/career environment.
Therefore, it is of utmost importance to learn the tools and techniques of entering a state of coherence as early as possible in life. Learning how to cope with stress, and how to align one’s inner resources (physiology, thoughts and emotions), can bring invaluable returns of investment during each and every stage of one’s life.
Benefits of coherence for students
Research has shown that certain methods of achieving psychophysiological coherence can result in multiple benefits for the students, ranging from improved emotional and mental clarity to increased capacity for learning and an ability to retain the acquired knowledge longer.
Coherence—the state of balance and alignment of our thoughts, emotions, belief system, speech and actions—makes us physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually healthy. Achieving a state of coherence lowers stress and anxiety, brings inner peace, and more energy into our lives. It improves our immunity and resilience in the face of any challenge. It strengthens our relationships with others, and deepens our sense of belonging or oneness with the world. It leads to a more productive, creative and joyful lifestyle, and empowers us to take control over our lives.
Naturally then, a state of coherence can bring astonishing benefits to students of any age group and aptitude level. The state of psychophysiological coherence is characterized by a higher heart rate variability (HRV is a measurement of heart coherence—the higher its value, the more adaptable and resilient the person is to challenges), higher heart-brain synchronization, and a state of harmonious, or synchronized functioning of the body, brain and the nervous system.
Achieving and nurturing a sustained state of coherence in students can lead to:
- Good physical health and higher energy levels
- Improved ability to absorb and retain new information
- Improved cognitive abilities, such as reasoning, problem solving and abstract thinking
- Tapping into talents and creative potentials
- Improved test-taking skills and test performance—overall, better success in studies
- Reduced impulsivity and better anger management—an ability to control emotional impulses and to make rational choices when faced with a frustrating situation
- Better communication and interpersonal skills with both their peers and with the adults (parents, teachers, etc.)
- Higher emotional intelligence quotient or social-emotional competence—conflict resolution and ability to cooperate/work in a group
- Better study-life balance—experiencing less overwhelm and more joy as a student
- Higher resilience and improved sense of self-security.
A quick coherence technique for students
If you are a student, and you wish to have a foretaste of the state of coherence, we recommend you to try the following simple technique. This is a brief version of the Quick Coherence Technique for Students, developed by the HeartMath Institute, initially published in their “College De-Stress Handbook.” The technique consists of two simple steps:
Step 1: Heart-Focused Breathing
Bring your awareness on your chest, and begin to breathe slowly and deeply. Imagine that your breath is flowing in and out of the heart area (or the center of your chest). Feel that your breath is helping you calm down. Inhale for 5 seconds and exhale for 5 seconds. Repeat this as long as it feels comfortable.
Step 2: Activating a Positive Feeling
Feel appreciation and love for a special person (or even a pet). Alternatively, recall an event from the past, or a special place that made you feel peaceful, safe, happy, grateful and joyful in the past. Try to relive those same feelings now.
- Deborah Rozman, Ph.D., Rollin McCraty, M.Sc., Jeffrey Goelitz, M.Ed. The Role of the Heart in Learning and Intelligence A Summary of Research and Applications with Children.1998
- Rollin McCraty, PhD. Enhancing Emotional, Social, and Academic Learning With Heart Rhythm Coherence Feedback. Biofeedback and Self-Regulation 33(4):130-134. 2005