Like many returning students, I have spent the past week either bitterly cold (apologies to those who gave me concerned looks on the high street as I chattered my teeth obnoxiously), or miserably staring at my screen in the library. Certainly not an appealing dichotomy of being to come back to. I think I speak for nearly every single Oxford undergrad when I say ‘OXHATE to collections, HATE HATE HATE!’ (thanks #oxfess2879 x)
As I sat down for dinner on my beloved landing on Wednesday of 0th week, one of my friends, amongst conversations of bop costume ideas and vac debriefs, exclaimed: ‘I used to get so stressed during exams that I would cry before every single one.’ I sat and chewed on the creamy grains of my comforting lemon, mushroom, and chicken orzo as I thought of what to say next. My friend then muttered, almost as an afterthought, ‘I just think I’m so frightened of things not going to plan, like all my hard work is going to waste.’ I nodded compassionately in agreement. The unknown IS scary.
Inevitably with large, rowdy discussions, the moment slipped away almost as quickly as it came into being. Nonetheless, her comments stuck with me as I, in a near trance, spent most of 0th week memorising quotes, writing essay plans, and reading for my next essay… How do we cope with the thought of failure?
It’s an undeniable truth that this university is filled with individuals who always want to be at the top of their academic game. I’m not going to sit here and tell you it’s ok if you fail your exams because I hardly believe that myself. Rather, in the era of #girlboss and goal-setting frenzy, it’s perhaps worth considering what to do when exams, grad schemes, or just life doesn’t go to plan.
Thousands of self-help books have tried to answer this question (I should know, I’ve read most of them). Take deep breaths. Sleep. Drink water. Exercise. But do these simple lifestyle fixes really remedy the existential fear of our lives taking a U-turn? I mean, in some ways, yes. Keeping our bodies healthy is not only important for everyday well-being, but it can also ensure that in the face of ‘failure’ our bodies are physiologically prepared to cope with the mental stress of it all.
But what about taming our inner thoughts?
My college wife introduced me to ‘underthinking’, the notion of attempting to eliminate one’s inner thoughts by focusing on the here and now, switching off the hyper-active ‘what if’ of our brains.
This works for me (most of the time). But in the face of failure and the unknown, work on your own, healthy, personal routine. Prepare yourself for the big jump. Ultimately, to soothe the fear of failure, we need to de-stress both physically and mentally. So, go dance, run, watch reality TV – whatever suits you. When facing the unknown, it’s important that we maintain our sanity through mental and physical breaks.