Imperial College Health Centre

Central London Clinical Commissioning Group

Tense and Fearful Student

Revision is delayed or undermined by self-doubts and self-putdowns.

The more you entertain such negative thoughts, the more deskilled you feel.

In particular, you may find yourself engaging in the following thinking distortions:

Common Thinking Errors

  • Exaggeration – magnifying negatives, ignoring positives
  • Overgeneralisation – e.g. expecting everything to be bad, always , because of one negative experience
  • Catastrophising – anticipating disaster even from a minor setback, real or imagined
  • Polarization – black or white, all or nothing mentality
  • Emotional Reasoning – confusing thinking with feeling (e.g.. you feel an idiot, so you must be one)

You need to find ways to challenge and contradict these negative thoughts
– replacing your critical self-talk with constructive self-talk.

What would you say to a friend who is bogged down by a similar internal dialogue?
Probably something empowering and realistic – so now you need to practice saying it to yourself!

Revision Tips

  • Face your fear! Identify your fear(s) and if there is some reality to it (e.g. “it is very unlikely that I’ll get the grade I need”) think of ways of accepting this possibility.
    Then formulate a back-up plan, which may not be ideal, but is still worth working towards.
  • Remember that your personal worth and future happiness are not conditional on the outcome of your exams! Let yourself imagine the worst possible outcome – and then ask yourself – how likely is it that the worst case scenario will come true?
    And if it did, what would my options be then? By facing your fears and making a plan for what you would do if the worst did happen, you will regain some control over the situation and the fear will diminish.
  • Break a large task into manageable parts!
    Negative thinking will exaggerate the difficulty of the task – but you probably know from past experience that once you get started and have devised a realistic study programme, you usually manage to get things into perspective.
    By breaking a large area of work into smaller chunks, you gain a sense of control over the overall task and it will help to focus your energy more efficiently.
  • How did you make it through exams in the past? Remind yourself of past success and be careful to avoid comparisons (e.g. “I did okay, but Jane did much better”).
    Also, watch out for discounting past achievements (e.g. “it was a fluke that I passed”) – instead, generate positive self-talk – accept compliments, give yourself credit whenever possible.
    These techniques will help contradict a pattern of feeling like you don’t deserve success.
  • Watch out for the distortion of events or situations! If you wake up with a big day ahead of you and you say “it will be just awful, I’ll never get it all done” you are setting yourself up for a negative experience.
    Instead, try to alter your perspective: “Looks like a busy day – could be a very productive one. I’ll get a load of things out of the way”.