Owning Results Day Anxiety (ft. Eminem)
Updated: Jan 22, 2019
You work hard(ish) during the academic year, revise hard(ish) during study leave, then you sit down and handle those exams. And then you sit back and enjoy a well-earned summer break. Results day comes. You turn up to school, get your results, make some casual future decisions, and go back to enjoying your summer. Sorted.
…if only, right?
The sad truth: for many of us, 'results 'day' might as well be called 'results month'.
Because August arrives, and suddenly each beautiful summer day begins to find itself being rudely interrupted by small bouts of anxiety or stress. It starts with random pangs of anxiety, unwelcome reminders of the day to come… but you quickly brush them off and get back to chilling out.
But then the pangs start to develop voices, two words all they need to make your mind run faster than a monkey on meth: 'what if…'.
What if the marker is feeling really harsh, what if the grade boundary is high, what if I actually don't get the grades I need…
And then the pangs double their vocabulary, dragging the mind back to the past with haunting calls of 'if only…'.
If only I'd started revising earlier, if only I hadn't made that stupid mistake, if only the paper had been as easy as the one in 2014…
The end result: your mind is either consumed by the future or stuck in the past - definitely not here in this moment, enjoying the summer! No moment awake is safe from the malevolent tendrils of anxiety... but thankfully, we still have sleep! Right?
Wrong. Before you know it, you're being woken up in the middle of the night with your palms sweaty, knees weak, arms heavy...vomit on your pyjamas already, mom's spaghetti…
Here's the thing - I can't tell you for sure if Eminem suffered from exam results day anxiety.
But if he did, I'd tell him, Stan and all the Slim Shady imitators the same thing that I'm going to tell you.
It's all good! You're allowed to feel this way. It's perfectly normal. In fact, it's actually pretty respectable. Why? Because this anxiety is simply stemming from the fact that you give a damn about your future. And that's an admirable thing to give a damn about. Last time I checked, it definitely wasn't 'weak' or 'shameful' to give a damn about yourself!
Great…except that doesn't make the anxiety go away. In fact, the anxiety is getting worse because of the fact that you give a damn about the outcome of those results, because you can't do anything more about it now!
You only had one shot, one opportunity (unless you can do retakes or take a gap year, but for now, keep quiet - this opportunity for Eminem jokes only comes once in a lifetime…). And now it's got you nervous, even though on the surface you may look calm.
Right. That's enough of the problem. Let's snap back to reality and own that anxiety, so you can lose yourself in the joys of a chilled-out summertime.
The extent to which you'll feel anxiety will differ dramatically depending on many factors, but for the sake of convenience, let's break it down into two cases.
Small waves of anxiety: Roughly corresponding to, "damn, results day is coming up…oh well, perfect time for lifting weights/ Harry Potter movie marathon/ absolutely anything else to distract myself from it".
Big-ass tsunamis of anxiety: Roughly corresponding to, "oh my God, I'm going to fail, I'm a failure, my life is a failure, f**k everything I just want to curl up in bed with a tub of Nutella/Ben & Jerry's!" (if you're lactose intolerant AND have nut allergies, sorry to tell you, but results day is the least of your problems…)
Okay, if you're getting tired of reading, good news! For both these cases of results day anxiety, I've shown you how to overcome them through YouTube videos! To own those small waves, click here. And to own those bigass tsunamis, click here.
If you're not tired of reading, good news also! Keep reading for a framework I've devised to help you overcome anxiety! (But open the videos up to watch later anyway - much more helpful, far fewer Eminem references)
As an ex-consultant, making frameworks will be a part of me 'till I collapse. So without further ado, let me introduce RUDMA. This wonderfully simple framework describes how to own any wave of anxiety, be it big or small, and I've explained it in the context of results day.
R - Recognise when the feeling of anxiety is arising and what is triggering it.
For example, was it because that idiot friend of yours mentioned how they were getting nervous about exam results? Or were you just spacing out for a minute, and your mind decided to be a d**k and take your thoughts towards results day?
The act of recognition is the first step to dealing with any emotion - in emotional intelligence terms, it falls under the self-awareness category.
U- Understand why the feeling of anxiety is arising.
This is the most difficult part of dealing with anxiety (or any other emotion), as it requires you to chase down that feeling to its source, during which you'll often encounter insecurities and fears along the way.
For example, in this case, you're anxious because the outcome of the results matter to you. But why they matter could go a lot deeper - fear of failure, fear of disappointing your parents, the shame and embarrassment if your friends do well and you don't, the self-confidence you'll lose if you miss your offer, and so on.
The key to understanding is to tell your pride to shut the hell up, and approach every fear and insecurity without judgement towards yourself! We all have insecurities - they're battle scars to be worn with compassion as a testament to our individuality and the experiences that have shaped us. They're not signs of weakness or sources of shame!
You can resolve them later (recommended), or even suppress them again (not recommended) - but for the purposes of overcoming this anxiety, keep it very matter-of-fact and non-judgemental. You're only trying to understand why the outcome of these results are causing you distress.
D - Define the cause of your anxiety.
The 'understand' component of RUDMA is going to have your mind running around in crazy circles, confronting some thoughts, fleeing from others - the sooner you turn this frantic mind-chatter into absolute statements, the quicker you can progress. So write it down!
No one needs to see these words - they're for you, and you alone. Turn your intangible, undefined mind-noise into tangible, defined statements in order to attach a concrete definition to that wave of anxiety, such that when it arises again, you already know why. A large portion of the feeling of anxiety is the discomfort caused by your mind hunting the source of it - if you've already covered all the 'why' bases, you can skip that entire ordeal!
M - Manage your anxiety.
This is where the real, sustainable change happens. It might be that just truly identifying why you're feeling that anxiety is enough to move past those small waves. But in the case of those big-ass tsunamis, you might need a plan to manage it.
This is where scenario analysis comes in. In the case of results day, we're talking specifically about the vision your mind is running to - the worst-case scenario. Your mind runs towards this in order to create the illusion that it's prepared you for the negative outcome - but instead of helping it, too often we just pull away because of the discomfort.
No longer! Confront it, define it, write it down! Because once you have your worst-case scenario defined, your mind will have nothing to run to! You've given it what it's been looking for this entire time, and it'll thank you by stopping those damn waves of anxiety!
Get the idea? If not, check the video for some more information on why your mind is creating this anxiety, as well as some useful tips on how to actually go about the slightly-daunting process of creating your worst case scenario!
A - Accept that this anxiety you're feeling is absolutely fine!
Accept that this feeling is not weakness, it's not something to fear, and it's not something to flee from either. When you've got the steps above handled, you'll be able to feel the anxiety come…and you'll be able to observe it, let it go.
And each time, it'll pass quicker and less painfully than before, after which you're free to introduce more positive thoughts and visualisations whenever results day comes invades your mind-space!
Wow. If you've reached this point, you must have really lost yourself in this blog post! Thankfully, it's time for me to bring this to a close.
This post and the videos mentioned were made to help you deal with the anxiety related to exam results day. But every technique described in the videos and the framework above can be applied to ANY kind of anxiety. Seriously - it could be a job interview, sports competition, asking out that girl/guy you like, anything - give it a try, and let me know how it goes!
In the meantime, please feel free to share this post and the YouTube videos if you found them useful. Anxiety is misunderstood in our society, and it's far easier to deal with than we make it out to be! In any case, I hope that you, dear reader, can now own whatever anxiety is currently pestering you.
Keep growing. Keep striving. Keep shining!
Kam Taj is a University of Cambridge graduate (Engineering Tripos, BA, MEng, 2011-15), ICF-Accredited performance coach, motivational speaker and author of 'The Ultimate Guide To Exam Success'. He runs training workshops at schools, universities and companies on personal & professional development, with a focus on performance improvement in their field of choice. When he's not running workshops or coaching private clients, you can find him playing tennis, hanging on gymnastic rings and making cheesy motivational Instagram posts.