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Test Anxiety

Five strategies for overcoming test anxiety.

Wavebreakmedia/Deposit Photos
Source: Wavebreakmedia/Deposit Photos

Emma sat in class and took a deep long breath then slowly exhaled. This was one of the many techniques she had been taught in the past to calm her nerves before a test. The instructor walked into the room with a stack of papers in hand. Emma's palms began to sweat and her heart started to race. She tried to soothe her nerves by reassuring herself “You’re ready for this. You’ve studied all night.” Unfortunately, every uplifting message she told herself was met by another voice “Did you really do all that you could to prepare? If only you had started to study the week before.” It felt like an internal battle and her head started to pound. Again she took a deep breath and closed her eyes hoping to recompose herself. She focused on the task at hand and began clearing her desk for the two hour exam. As the instructor walked around the room, Emma could hear each step coming closer and closer until a stapled packet made its way to her desk top. She looked at the packet and it was as though someone took a magic eraser and wiped all traces of her exam preparation clean. Once again, Emma had fallen victim to the all-consuming emotion of test anxiety.

Soon, just like Emma, millions of teens across the nation will be preparing for their final exams. While it is normal to feel some dreaded apprehension about taking an exam, test anxiety takes emotions to a whole new extreme. It can affect its victims both physically and psychologically and ultimately become debilitating. Learning to recognize and deal with the symptoms of test anxiety can help teens feel more empowered and in control during their final exams. If you are a teen who suffers from test anxiety, then you are no stranger to the paralyzing effects it can have on you. Fortunately, you don’t have to let anxiety reign and conquer your life this exam season. Below are some strategies to help you get an upper hand on your thoughts, feelings and behaviors. The good news is you can defeat your test anxiety and it begins with changing your mindset.

benjaminec/Deposit Photos
Source: benjaminec/Deposit Photos

5 Strategies for Overcoming Test Anxiety

1. Change your mindset

Do you see stress as a friend or enemy? Most people would say enemy because stress is usually associated with loss of sleep, headaches, poor eating habits, and the list goes on and on. But what if you change how you thought about and interacted with stress? What if stress wasn’t trying to screw up your life, but rather it was trying to help you? In fact, studies have shown that stress isn’t a big problem to your health, or your life for that matter? The problem lies in whether you perceive stress as a friend or an enemy. As an enemy, stress can wreak complete havoc on your life, but odds are you already know that. In reality stress is not your enemy. It wants you to be ready to excel at what you are doing. The mission of stress is not to destroy you, but to help you out. Studies have found that those who understand and accept stress actually live happier lives and aren’t any more prone to disease than those who experience minimal stress in life. If you want to change your response to stress, you have to change your mindset.

2. Plan your time wisely

You’ve got a lot of material to cover in a short amount of time. So, how are you going to tackle this task? The most efficient and productive way is to come up with a study plan. Map out what you need to accomplish and then break the task into small manageable pieces. You probably know by now that cramming will only make your stress levels skyrocket. So, give yourself plenty of time to properly prepare. First, get organized. Start by reviewing the material you will be responsible for knowing and next sort through your notes. Last, develop timeline to review the material and stick to it. Give yourself a few days to spare at the end of your timeline for a final review of all of the notes. Remember, the final review is a just a review, not a cram session.

3. Cover the basics

Basic #1 – Eat well. Your body needs good fuel (food) to work efficiently. Research shows that when people are stressed they often opt for ease and convenience which often translates to junk food. If you want to give yourself the best shot at acing that test then fill up your tank with premium foods and eat nutritiously. On another note, there are also some foods that contribute to and exacerbate anxiety and stress levels. You may want to steer clear of these foods and beverages in stressful times, as they can make your anxiety levels increase.

Basic #2 – Get some shut eye. Sleep is a great way to soothe anxiety and stress. Sleep helps calm the nerves by letting your body and mind relax and reset itself. Unfortunately, when you’re stressed, you may not be getting enough sleep. In a sleep survey approximately 18 percent of teens reported that when they do not get enough sleep, they feel more stressed and 36 percent say they feel tired because they are stressed. So, if you want to give yourself a running start at a good grade, be sure to unwind, get some extra ZZzzzz time.

Basic #3 – Get moving. Exercise has so many great benefits, such as improving your mood, giving you more energy, and helping to decrease stress. With benefits like those, it’s a mystery why so many people report that they don’t do it regularly. This exam season be sure to schedule some extra time to clear your mind by going for a run, walk, bike ride or sign up for a yoga class!

4. Live in the Present

It’s important to take time in your day to regroup, collect your thoughts and focus on living in the present moment. The ability to live in the moment is called “mindfulness.” Often you may get so busy thinking about what’s going to happen in the future (whether you’re going to pass the test) that you may forget to pay attention to what is happening right in front of your nose. Put some time in your day to focus on what's happening right now in your life. Go outside and listen to the sounds that fill the air, see the colors of nature that surround you, feel the breeze as it brushes across your face, breathe in the scents of fresh air, and feel the warmth of the sun embracing you. Take time to be present in the moment, not only will it refresh your senses, but it will help calm your nerves too!

5. Take care of yourself

In life we have to carve out some “me time.” I once heard it said that "Life is 10% what happens to us, and 90% how we react to it.” Talk to yourself positively. When life throws you a curveball say, "I can handle it, " "This will be over soon," or "I have handled difficult things before, and I can do it again." Remember - stress is not your enemy, it’s just trying to help you get through this part of your life.

Wishing you an exam season that is free of test anxiety.


More from Raychelle Cassada Lohmann Ph.D.
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