Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the stressiest of us all?
We all understand that revision, exams and impending deadlines can be very stressful, especially as end of year assessments approach. My colleagues here in the Library have blogged about it, and the Students Union have dedicated a web page to it, with links to advice and sources of help. If you’ve visited the Library this week, you might even have seen the giant inflatable outside, intended to help with the expending of some of that pent-up tension.
I’ll admit, I had a pretty stress-induced dream last night. No, I’m not going to tell you about it. But it got me thinking about all the other folks out there dealing with assessment stress. After all, it’s not just at University (or in education as a whole) that people are tested.
The biggest test of all this week is undoubtedly for all those fighting to get a seat in Parliament. They’ve got millions of assessors collaborating on their pass or fail decisions. But the press will probably tell you more than enough about them in the coming days and weeks, so I won’t. I’ll talk about some other people I’m interested in instead…
Last Thursday (30th April) the RAF Aerobatic Team, The Red Arrows, were assessed in the skies over Greece to see whether they would achieve PDA (Public Display Authorisation), meaning they can display for the public during this years airshow season. The PDA is a test of the aircraft, the ground crews and the pilots, and ultimately decides whether the display routine can be performed safely and professionally. It’s assessed by some of the highest ranking members of the RAF, and I can only imagine how stressful the build-up to this must be! It’s not unique to the Reds, it’s a requirement for all aircraft which intend to display in the UK. On 24th April, the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, Typhoon solo display, and Battle of Britain Synchro (new pairing of a Spitfire and Typhoon!) teams all passed their PDA’s at RAF Coningsby. The Hawk T2 Demonstration team from RAF Valley are also working towards their PDA in the very near future, with one Portsmouth-born pilot in the cockpit! (Good Luck Ben!)
How much assessment stress these pilots (and their ground crew) experience I couldn’t say for sure, and it will undoubtedly vary for each individual. You might wonder whether they get stressed at all, given that they will all have hundreds of flying hours clocked up, many of them on active service.
The thing is, every student will also have spent months (and years) engrossed in their subject; researching, presenting, writing, experimenting. They may not be flying a fast jet at speed through the clouds, but they will have been building up their own expertise. They will be knowledgeable. They will understand concepts and arguments, and have an opinion that’s been developed through their exploration of these.
Having to prove that expertise and knowledge to an authority figure or board though, that’s what causes the stress. And at that critical moment, whether you’re sitting an exam on human anatomy, writing an essay on law, or flying in formation with 8 other jets only feet away from your wing tips, your response to pressure is what causes the symptoms of stress; tension, irritability, inability to concentrate, feeling tired all the time, having trouble sleeping, headaches, feeling sick, tightening of muscles which might lead to pain, and even visiting the toilet frequently.
Stress is the emotional and physical strain caused by our response to pressure from the outside world, and it’s totally normal to experience it. While it is almost impossible to live without some stress, for most of us a certain amount of stress can give a sense of excitement, incentive and enables us to achieve. So my advice for those worrying right now is to recognise stress, take the advice that’s out there to help you cope with it*, believe in your expertise and let yourself fly high!
Storm Trooper/Mirror Photo by Kalexanderson