A higher secondary student wrote to me: “I work hard to prepare for all exams, but on the final day I get nervous. Though I try hard to overcome this problem through meditation and yoga, it persists. How do I learn to handle such situations and perform well in the examinations?”
I gave him the following advice:
Examination panic, or other fears related to performance, is common problem. The quickest way to overcome this is through self-hypnosis. Self-Hypnosis is a self-induced state of mind which can be defined as a heightened state of focused attention, with the willingness to follow instructions. The heightened state of focused attention is called trance state and the willingness to accept and follow instructions is called suggestibility. To put it in other words self-hypnosis is self-induced hypnosis.
Nine steps to attain the state of self-hypnosis
1. Go to a quiet room and sit in any comfortable chair or couch. Although some people prefer to lie down, you are more susceptible to sleep than when sitting up. Whether you sit or lie, ensure you do not cross your legs or any part of your body. Crossing legs or hands may cause discomfort after some time and prevent concentrating attention which is very essential to attain self-hypnosis. Make sure you are not going to be disturbed for at least one hour.
2. Close your eyes and work to rid your mind of any feelings of fear, stress, or anxiety. In the beginning you might find it difficult not to think. You may find that thoughts keep intruding. When this happens, don't try to force the thoughts out. Observe them impartially, and then let them slip away. If you find it difficult keep the mind empty without any thoughts try to take lesson from meditation. Focus your attention on your own breathing. It’s much like watching waves on water. Let it be how it wants to be. As you notice your breath now, it may be shallow, uneven or jerky. It’s OK however it is. You’re just observing it with attention -- every inhale and exhale. After some time you can keep your mind empty without any feelings, stress, or anxiety.
3. Recognize the tension in your body. Beginning with your toes, imagine the tension slowly falling away from your body and vanishing. Imagine it freeing each body part one at a time starting with your toes and working its way up your body. Visualize each part of your body becoming lighter and lighter as the tension is removed. Relax your toes, then your feet. Continue with your calves, thighs, hips, stomach and so on, until you've relaxed each portion, including your face and head. Using imagery techniques of something you find comforting or soothing, such as water or placid landscapes can be effective as well.
4. Take slow, deep breaths. When you exhale, visualize the tension in a dark cloud. As you inhale, see the air returning as a bright force filled with life and energy.
5. Appreciate the fact that you are now extremely relaxed. Imagine you are at the top of a flight of 10 stairs which at the fifth step start to submerge into water. Picture every detail of this scene from the top to the bottom. Tell yourself silently that you are going to descend the stairs, counting each step down, starting at 10. Picture each number in your mind. Imagine that each number you count is further down and one step closer to the bottom. After each number, you will feel yourself drifting further and further into deep relaxation. As you take each step, imagine the feel of the step under your feet. Once you are at the fifth step imagine and truly feel the refreshing coolness of the water and tell yourself that you are stepping into a pool of purity and cleanliness. As you begin to descend the last five steps, start to feel the water getting higher and higher up your body. You should now start to feel somewhat numb and your heart will start to race a bit, but notice it and let any qualms about the situation just drift away into the water.
6. At this point at the bottom of the water you shouldn't really feel anything, just a floating sensation. You may even feel like you're spinning. Once you have achieved this state you should proceed to address your problems and decide upon what it is you want from where you are. (Note: if you do not feel as stated above, try again, slower with a will to grasp what is happening.) Now start to narrate what you are doing, speak in the present and future tense quietly to yourself, or as if you are reading it from a page. Start to picture three boxes under the water that you have to swim to get to. Once you have found the boxes open them slowly one at a time and narrate to yourself what is happening when you open the box. For example “As I open the box I feel a radiant light engulf me, I feel it becoming a part of me, this light is my new found confidence that I can never lose as it is now a part of me' and then proceed on to the next box. You should avoid using statements with negative connotation such as "I don't want to be tired and irritable." Instead, say, "I am becoming calm and relaxed." Examples of positive statements "I am strong and slender," "I am successful and positive," and, if you are suffering from back ache, "My back is beginning to feel wonderful."
7. Repeat your statement(s) to yourself as many times as you wish. Two or 3 times should be enough.
8. Once you are satisfied with what you have done, swim back to the stairs and feel with each step you take the water becoming lower and lower until you have once again reached that fifth step. Once you are out of the water and are on the sixth step you may start to feel heavy or as if there is a weight on your chest. Wait on the step until this passes, constantly repeating your aforementioned statements. Once it passes continue up the stairs visualizing each step by its number, feeling the steps underneath you, will yourself to carry on up the stairs.
9. Once you have ascended, give yourself a few moments before opening your eyes. You may want to visualize yourself opening a door to the outside world, do this slowly and imagine the light that pours in through the door way, this should make your eyes open. Take your time getting up. Then out loud tell yourself "Wide awake, Wide awake" or something maybe that your mother used to say when she woke you up in the morning as a child. This will put your mind back in the conscious state.