Tackle your fear of failure

Sara Vermeersch en Suzy Even
17 August 2020 |

With the exams looming, for many students the moment of truth beckons. The main thing Is not to be paralysed by stress during tough circumstances. Student psychologists Suzy Even and Sarah Vermeersch have some tips.

Fear of failure is exactly that', says Suzy Even (Counselling Office). 'You may experience it when you have to do something big or important and are uncertain about the outcome. Everyone must cope with this sooner or later. But when you experience this regular1y and your performance starts to suffer, then you're better off doing something about it. Otherwise, you run the risk of ending up in a downward spiral.'

A range of symptoms

'The signs that something is seriously wrong can stem from different angles says Sarah Vermeersch (Counselling Of-flee). 'Some people find that high-stress levels mainly lead to physical complaints: migraines, heart palpitations, sweating, shivering, gastrointestinal problems, insomnia ... The fear feeds on your weaknesses. In other students, the problems manifest themselves predominantly on the cognitive level. They start to mull things over so much that they can barely focus on what they are supposed to be doing, namely studying. They end up weighed down by defeatism, overwhelmed by worst-case scenarios, easily fall prey to irritability, have a markedly negative self-image and can only see things in black and white. In short, they no longer have a healthy perception of their studies. And finally, there are behavioural symptoms. You start to invest an unreasonable amount of time in your courses, nervously avoiding any form of relaxation, because come hell or high water, you've got to pass. Or you hope to allay your fear by literally fleeing your textbooks:

Suzy Even: 'It's definitely not just students who are at the beginning of their academic career who experience fear of failure. It can hit you at any age. And it's not because you pass every year that you have no problems and have a constructive approach to your studies. The pressure can just continue to accumulate beneath the surface imperceptibly. Until the bucket suddenly overflows and you're completely frozen in place. People sometimes forget that studying has got to be fun. If it is literally making you sick, something's not right:

Multiple factors at play

Sarah Vermeersch: 'Fear of failure can have several causes and often a combination of factors is actu­ally involved. It may be that you began experienc­ing doubts after a negative study recommendation or an unexpected failure? If you cannot put this in perspective, it can take on such great proportions that you no longer have control over it. In several instances, students also experience - possibly subconsciously - pressure from their immediate envi­ronment. If your parents expect you to do well or if you have a brilliant older brother, this can be quite discouraging. And nowadays we do live in a society where performance has become the norm. We tend to constantly compare ourselves with others and want to be the best, at all cost.'

The good news is that you really can usually learn to control your fear of failure. Suzy Even: 'The key is the right assessment of your problem. If you can trace the probable cause, you can work toward a solution.’


Could you use some assistance to get a better grip on you study-related stress? Check these 7 tips or contact our student psychologists.

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