It's April, and for many of you college students you are preparing for finals in a few weeks. For those of you not in college, this post still applies for any type of test or work presentation. If you suffer from worry, anxiety, or panic symptoms before, during, or after an evaluation, continue reading for some helpful strategies to get you through.
Five Ways To Cope With Test Anxiety
Deep Abdominal Breathing
When we take deep breaths, it is important to make sure the air is getting deep enough. To know if you are bringing the air to the right spot, place one hand on your belly and one hand on your chest. Both should be rising and falling as you breathe, but your belly should be rising higher. Picture a balloon inside your belly slowly filling with air and then slowly deflating when you breath out. Focus on the way the air feels or how your body feels taking in this nourishment as you inhale and exhale.
This may seem like a no-brainer, but it is still important to cover. Our mind and body give us feedback about our environment. This is necessary for survival and healthy functioning. It is why we become fearful in dangerous situations. If we do not prepare for the test/evaluation, our mind says "uh, wait a minute here. I don't know how to process this situation. Alarm, alarm, alarm!" And our body feels the corresponding anxiety symptoms. While taking a test is not necessarily a dangerous situation, there are negative consequences for not performing well on a test. Hence, our mind will react accordingly. Note that this is unlikely to occur if you do not care about the negative consequences or the outcome of the test.
Healthy, Realistic, and Optimistic Thoughts
The way we think affects the way we feel which in turn impacts our behavior. We can be responsible for the thoughts we have about a test. If we interpret studying for a test as boring and a waste of time, we are less likely to prepare. If we interpret the test as a challenge that provides a stepping stone to our career, we are more likely to prepare. Our thoughts about the test while taking it also matter and can influence our performance. It is important to be realistic. If you haven’t studied at all and really never had a good handle on the material, thinking you are going to ace it is unrealistic. Thinking that you will do your best with what you have is more effective. Thinking that one test will make or break your life is also unhelpful and most likely not true.
Mindfulness-Focus on Here and Now When Taking the Test
Every second you have an opportunity to be mindful- to be fully aware of your experience taking the test. This means getting comfortable with being uncomfortable, focusing on the test itself, and being aware of any distracting thoughts with non-judgment and acceptance. This is a skill that takes practice. It is a good thing that we can practice any time we want because there is always the current moment available to us. Why not live in it?
Awareness of Cycle of Anxiety and Panic
Sometimes we get so anxious preparing or taking a test that we experience feelings of panic or a full-blown panic attack. While incredibly uncomfortable and terrifying, panic attacks on their own are not usually dangerous. It is important to understand the cycle of panic to stop it before it starts. We may feel anxious and start to notice our breathing and heart rate increase. Once we have had panic attacks diagnosed, we can understand that our body is falsely alarming us to a danger that is not real. Using healthy coping skills (some of them are mentioned above) can make a big difference.
Contact me if you want to learn more about coping with anxiety.