20 easy steps to handle the stress of an upcoming event – Part 1

This is part 1 of a 3 article series on dealing with the stress of an upcoming event. We talk about an exam, but most tips apply to tests, interviews, business meetings.
Once you’re done with this one, continue with Part 2 – The morning before and Part 3 – Handling the stress during

I don’t handle stress very well. When I was a little tiny insignificant secondary school student, the stress before exams was unbearable – I felt sick, couldn’t focus, couldn’t remember a thing. Luckily I grew up and now, after being through a LOT of such experiences, I developed my own stress-handling routine – it’s now a habit that I apply subconsciously, whenever facing a stressful upcoming event – exam, interview or business meeting.

Let’s, for the story sake, assume you’re having a final exam for a class with a high failure rate. Or, if you prefer, a job interview with lots of applicants and several tests involved. Stress is building up in stages, starting with the evening before the event. Try to follow along the most important stress relief pointers:

The evening before


Don’t do all nighters
Stop all study before nightfall
Take a break and do something else
Use your last hour wisely – quizzes, reviews, write things down – notes for yourself.
Prepare the gear

The day before the exam you usually try to get yourself pumped up by studying as much as you can. When evening comes, panic strikes – you feel as if you’re not prepared, you consider getting high on caffeine to stay up all night, for an all-night study.

Don’t! Being tired before an exam actually makes you more stupid. [read my previous articles on how to ace your exams, boost your iq, or this NewScientist article]

When I was in college I had Karate training on Monday and Wednesday evenings. More than once it happened the evening before some really difficult exams. At first I skipped sports training and went study instead – I was feeling like I couldn’t afford wasting two vital hours NOT studying.

Luckily, I soon discovered that studying right before the exam only makes a mess of all knowledge in the brain, and that the best thing I could do was actually make some sports the evening before. You tire your brain and mix all the knowledge up, instead of letting it settle and self organize.

The intense physical exercise releases endorphins which relax the mind and improve memory. Not thinking at the exam/test/interview is a well-deserved rest for your tired brain, which gets time to assimilate the knowledge and strengthens the involved synapses.

One other thing I discovered during Karate training was the calming effect of the seated(Seiza) meditation at the beginning and end – you let your mind be like water, clear of any thoughts and worries. Once the training was over, I was energized enough to be able to study a couple of hours more, if I wanted or needed to.

Even if you don’t have in schedule a particular sports training, you can still apply the same lessons:

Take a break when evening approaches. Stop, no more studying. Even though you feel that you don’t remember anything, take a break.

Try to do some physical exercise – pushups, jogging, even a long walk in a nearby park. The endorphins will do you good and help relieve the stress – (oh, btw, sex is also a well-known stress relief which also releases endorphins – but I guess you already know this)

If unable or unwilling to exercise, try at least to relax [here’s a few pointers – link….]. Go out on the balcony and drink a nice glass of ice tea(careful, no caffeine).

Meditate – close your eyes, breathe deeply, clear your mind of all thoughts. Just sit, in a dim light, eyes shut, trying to breathe regularly, thinking of nothing but nothingness. Remain this way until you feel completely void of worries.

What if you really have the urge to study some more? Here’s a tip – don’t go blindly read stuff. Instead, try to write down lists of the important points you need to remember – can be important formulas or topics for exams, keynote outline for a presentation. Organizing your ideas in writing is the best way to remember things and discover your weakest points. [in case you missed it, go check my previous article on studying for exams]

One last thing you can and should do in the evening is to get the gear ready for the upcoming event: If it’s a presentation then prepare the slides, charge your laptop and your phone, get your USB key, wireless mouse, various adapters. Don’t forget your business cards, moleskin, pen. Put them all in your laptop bag so you make sure the next morning you won’t forget them.

Similar advice for students – prepare your material the evening before. Get your clothes ready – inspect them and put them on a hanger in sight – who knows, next morning you might be in a hurry and have to get dressed in only a few minutes.

Set your alarm clock at a reasonable hour – not the middle of the night, but not too late either. Make it so that if bad things happen, you still have lots of time to get to the meeting/interview in time.

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