Stress: A state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances.
Is it a bad thing?
I recently attended a management course that concentrated on resilience in the workplace. Learning how to identify stress in your life and identify it in others is at the crux of this course. The above slide was put up and my mind immediately travelled to performance in the primary examinations. Examinations are stressful, but is this a bad thing?
The above graph looks different for everyone but displays some important points. The yellow section is where people perform best. It is called the “optimum stress” area and is where you want to be when you sit the vivas. You are tense yet motivated, your senses are heightened and you are prepared for the challenge ahead.
At the Olympics, what separates good athletes from extraordinary athletes is often their ability to perform in high stress situations. Most of the athletes are very similar in their fitness and physique, and it comes down to performance on the day. Two people with very similar skills and training can perform drastically different when faced with high-pressure situations.
Everyone has warning signs about when they are moving into the overload category, and when fatigue is becoming exhaustion. In this overload area, we tend to do less of our normal, healthy coping mechanisms (e.g. exercise) and our performance starts to decline. This overload of stress has been linked to impaired performance in military and in civilian populations.
Resilience: The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.
The good news is that you can get better at identifying and managing the stress you inevitably feel when facing difficult and uncertain situations. Identification and management of stress, and building of resilience, is possible. The trick is to manage your stress and keep it within optimal levels in order to perform on the day. If you don’t have the tools in place to keep your stress in check, you’ll under perform on the day of the exam.
The key thing to understanding this is that you are indeed facing uncertainty—the outcome of your future has not been decided. It’s up to you to develop the beliefs and mental toughness that will get you through the next few weeks, and perform well on the day of the viva.