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Facing Your Fear

Each year, around 1,200 students go to the Psychological Counseling Office at the Bremen Student Services Organization. What help do Swantje Wrobel and her team offer when it’s not going so smoothly? A regular issue at the end of the semester: Exam nerves

The exam period is pure horror for you? Do not worry, nearly everyone feels the same. However, it does become problematic when you feel really awful before exams and you have extreme physical symptoms. Maybe you have exam nerves.

Elmo is standing in the middle of blazing flames. The furry monster from Sesame Street stretches his arms in the arm in an act of despair. The animated picture that Kathi tweets needs no real explanation: Total desperation: It is the exam period again!

A great deal of these panicked GIFs circulate the internet at the end of the semester – they are a good way of letting off some steam. However, there are students for whom this is not enough. Their situation has become so critical that they feel sick when they think about the next exam or oral presentation.

Panic Attacks and Blackouts

“Some students tell us of panic attacks or blackouts,” says Swantje Wrobel. As the head of the Psychological Counseling Office (PBS) at the Bremen Student Services Organization, she is aware of the many forms of exam nerves and understands how serious the situation is for the people affected.

“Most people act in a totally natural way: They avoid the fear-inducing situation and postpone the exam,” explains the psychologist. But this is not a long-term solution. “We advise students to consciously face their fear. You can practice doing this.”

Start Small and Build up Slowly

A little practice suffices for many of the affected persons. For example, those who dread oral exams because they do not particularly like talking could start making small talk with the cashier when they are next shopping. According to Wrobel, the next step would be to hold a short presentation on a topic with which you are very familiar. Subsequently, you can move to unknown territory in terms of topics.

“This is how students can approach this bit by bit and then be able to communicate in a far more natural way at some point – even in the exam. All of a sudden the situation is no longer as fear-inducing,” she says.

Expectations too High

A further cause of exam nerves: Many overestimate the “danger” of the exam. For example, this may be due to them having expectations of themselves that are too high or their parents may be putting them under pressure in terms of their grades. Some students also fear the future – what will happen if I don’t find a job after university?

During the PBS consultation, Wrobel and her team try to find the source of these diverse phenomena. “Usually, a starting point becomes quite clear during the talks and we analyze and think about this together,” says the psychologist.

Visiting a work-structuring group, helps many students. There, they learn to expediently prepare for exams. The PBS also offers special workshops on exam and presentation nerves

“There are several offers of assistance. Once the affected have accepted that they need to change something, the first step has been taken,” states the psychologist.

Tips for Less Stress during the Exam Period

The student Blog EULe has collected a few tips for the stressful exam period: www.blogs.uni-bremen.de/eule

Psychological Counseling

The workshop on exam nerves scheduled for November 26 and 27, 2020, is cancelled due to the current measures against the corona pandemic. Instead, a telephone consultation is offered on Thursday, November 26, between 11 am and 1 pm and Friday, November 27, between 9 am and 10.45 pm on 0421 2201-11310.

The Psychological Counseling Office is located in the University of Bremen Central Campus Building underneath the cafeteria (Mensa). The secretariat is open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Mondays, Tuesday, Thursday and Fridays and from 2p.m. to 4 p.m. on Wednesdays. Appointments can also be made on the phone (22 01 – 1 13 10) or via email pbs@stw-bremen.de. There is also an online counseling service. The Psychological Counseling Office services are offered free of charge to students at the university and higher education institutions in Bremen and Bremerhaven.

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