Exam season is upon us, and nerves are inevitably in abundance. Izzy Nicol shares her guide to dealing with them — no Dutch courage required!

Nerves. We all get them in varying quantities, from butterflies to the feeling your stomach is going to implode at any moment. In spite of constant reassurance – “Use them to your advantage dahling, a little bit of nerves is only natural sweetie” — they can leave you standing lost for words and feeling as if you’re going to projectile vomit at any second.

At least that’s what it’s like for me. I’m only too familiar with these buggers, and I’m more prone to the stomach imploding kind. I like to sing when I’m in a group of people, but singing on my own makes my body leap into panic mode, doing very little for my vocal chords. It’s not just performing nerves, either. I would get into a right state in my GCSE maths lessons, not just because I hold a lifelong grudge against Pythagoras, but because being faced with a question I couldn’t answer, under the pressure of a looming exam, made me unbearably anxious. It didn’t fade when I escaped equations either; I took an exam this week, and right before it started I got a wave of nausea. It’s as if my body is saying — imagine a gruff, scumbag accent here — “Oi love, I’m gonna mess you up proper,” and then of course I get angry at the imaginary violent cockney of nerves and have a mental pub wrestling match with my stomach when I ought to be thinking about how on earth I’m going to deal with the question.

Fortunately, I managed to avoid any internal brawls this week. The most brutal inner conflict I experienced in the build-up to my exam was the question of which pen I would be able to write fastest with. This year, in the nick of time, I’ve just about managed to sort out how to control my nerves. Thus, ladies and gentlemen, this brings me to present to you my (potentially) fabulous guide: how to combat your inner saboteur and stop being a nervous wreck!

At this point I could pretend I’ve suddenly become the wonderful creator of a self-help guide, that I’ve deeply studied the human body and am about to bestow some expert wisdom. As a disclaimer, this is only what I’ve found through extensive trawling the internet trying to find a resolution for my own nerves, and these are some of the methods that have worked for me.

1) Visualise success

I know, it sounds horrendously cheesy, but it works. This is a tip I got way back when I was worried about a drama devised piece, and I completely dismissed it then. Recently, however, I’ve discovered the merit of going through exactly what I need to do to succeed in my head, step by step, and imagining it going well. With any luck, it can be replicated in the real thing.

2) Think positive

It seems so obvious, but when you’re nervously anticipating something, it’s easy to get into the whole, “Oh it’s going to go dreadfully, my life will be over, I’m going to fail this exam and work in McDonalds for the rest of eternity.” But if you’re prepared, you’ve practised your part, gone over your moves or memorised those history dates you’ve got every right to think positive. Optimism is the best antidote to panic.

3) Chill out on the caffeine and sugar

I’m hardly one to talk seeing as I crawl desperately toward the kettle and instant coffee as soon as my alarm goes off, and I’m certainly no stranger to skipping lunch in favour of chocolate and cake. But, after trial and error, I’ve realised that this does absolutely nothing for your ability to handle your physicality or emotions. Nerves plus caffeine shakes result in human earthquakes, and performing on a sugar rush mixed with adrenaline can make you bizarrely erratic and leave you feeling a wreck afterwards.

4) Remember why you’re doing it

Yes, it can be a little hard to remember why you’ve taken that subject to A2 level, but thinking about the possible benefits will stop you from dwelling on the now and tying yourself up in knots; it also works wonders for boosting motivation. This is also useful if you’re doing a presentation on something really important to you. Focus on what you want to talk about, not on yourself.

5) Breathe

This is another one that seems obvious, but when you’re standing outside of an examination hall or are in the midst of a debate, it’s the one thing that sometimes escapes a person. When you remember to breathe — not just hold your breath or hyperventilate — you’ll stop rabbling on like a madman, regain your composure and hopefully stop anxiously pacing back and forth making everyone else feel nervous!

So, ta-dah! Those are my top five tips for keeping nerves at bay, and I hope they prove somewhat useful. However, this really isn’t a comprehensive list, and any further additions would be great to see in the comments section. Finally, good luck to everyone who has exams this summer on behalf of the A New Take team — we hope you manage to beat your inner violent cockney brawler.

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