With exam season at it's full height, student stress levels are through the roof. On 29th April 2019, Dr Paul Rohleder from Essex University, gave an insightful talk on how to approach exam stress, with a Freuidian twist.


The session began with Freuid's famous analogy of the iceberg, with Dr Rohleder discussing not only how there is more to the mind beyond our conciousness, but also how stress emerges from the unconcious part of our mind.

Previously, many of of the students pictured the state of unconciousness as an untappable aspect of our mind. However, Rohleder challenged this notion, proposing that stress can be resolved through understanding the inner conflicts that root from one's unconcious mind.

Psychological vs Physiological

Rohleder extended his analysis of stress, acknowledging the physical and mental symptoms of stress, through reference to pioneers in the field of psychology. Dr Paul Rohleder first paid tribute to Walter Bradford Connan, a psychologist whom coined the term "fight of flight". Connan spoke of the way in which the human body approaches stress: the heart pumps faster to supply the muscles with oxygen, the body starts to sweat more and one's alertness is heightened.

Rohleder also mentioned the work of Sigmund Freuid, whom spoke of 'anxiety' rather than stress, anxiety being a fear. Freuid wrote of two anxieties: automatic and signal anxiety. Automatic anxiety is in response to an immediate threat, whereas signal anxiety is derived from the warning signs of a perceived threat.

Rohleder argued that automatic and signal anxiety often get mixed up, and our body can be inclined to treat perceived threats as an actuality, causing us to feel ill.

Addressing Inner Conflicts 

Stress, whether it be the result of automatic or signal anxiety, triggers the release of a hormone known as cortisol. Rohleder remarks that it is the release of cortisol through the body, which triggers the psyhiological symptoms of stress, such as thise detailed by Walter Connan. If one remains in a prolonged period of stress, then they can become increasingly ill.

To prevent stress from harmfully impacting one's health, stress needs to be tackled from it's source: the unconcious mind.

Dr Paul Rohleder spoke of the ways in which one's unconcious mind incorrectlt defines themselves, and these false characterisations of one's self can invoke inner conflicts. For instance, a person may wonder whether they have the capability of succeeding their exams. Evidently, their unconcious mind has foooled them into baselessly believing they do not have the potential to succeed. The first step in dealing with stress, is letting go of the harmful definitions assigned to oneself by their own unconcious mind.

Stress-Relieving Techniques

Written below are the top three techniques for dealing with the stress that comes with exam season:

1. Diaphragmatic Breathing - Rohleder mentioned that research shows breathing deeply in through the nose, and exhaling throung the mouth, four consecutive times, relieves some of the symptoms of stress.

2. Scheduling in Rewards - Our brains cannot process long periods of studying. Study sessions should thus be followed by small rewards, to build an unconcious connection between studying and rewards.

3. Positive Visualisation - Imagining the relief of completing exams and/or picturing oneself acing their work acts as a confidence booster and positive mood stimulator.