Updated: Apr 5, 2019
The first step to dealing with your test anxiety is to notice when you’re feeling anxious. Right now, go ahead and imagine yourself taking that upcoming test. Just become an observer of your thoughts and feelings. How does the thought of that test make you feel? What thoughts pop up?
If thinking about the test stresses you out, if you feel tense, then you could say you’re having a negative emotional reaction. When you think about taking the test, if negative thoughts like “What if I fail? It’s too hard! I can’t do it” pop up, then your self-talk could lead to test anxiety.
Like I said, the first step is to notice when and if you’re feeling anxious.
If thinking of the test gives you positive or neutral thoughts and feelings, then congrats! This lesson may not be for you, regarding that upcoming test. However, it’s very likely that you will someday feel anxious over something. And these strategies work for all kinds of anxiety- not just testing anxiety.
If thinking of the test makes you feel anxious and you have negative thoughts running through your mind, then this next strategy should help.
This is my very favorite strategy for dealing with anxiety, and it’s the easiest and fastest in my opinion- so let’s start here!
I’m going to teach you something I call a reset. This quick strategy distracts your Amygdala (your security guard that warns you of danger), and moves you into the thinking part of your brain. It resets your thinking and sets you on a better path for success. For more information on the Amygdala and how it affects your learning, check out this Mindfulness Lesson on the Amygdala: https://youtu.be/TF-2X555C4k.
Here’s how to do a reset:
1. Think about the situation that’s bugging you. In this case, it’s the upcoming test. Bring that into your mind and focus on what happens.
2. What feeling do you feel when you think of this situation?
3. What negative thought is popping up?
4. Once you’ve identified the feeling and the thought, you’re ready to reset. To reset, you need something to distract the Amygdala. I prefer to use scent because it’s practically instantaneous- it breaks right through to that unhelpful pattern and moves you into your reasoning brain. So the next step is to breathe in a smell. I like to use an essential oil, but you can use anything you have on hand- maybe a peppermint, a cut lemon, even the smell of your shirt. Whatever you’re using, take a big whiff of it while you’re focusing on the feeling and the thought you have. Keep breathing the scent and focusing on the feeling and thought, until you notice a change. Then you can stop. It shouldn’t take long at all.
Your sense of smell moved you out of your fear response and into the thinking part of your brain. It didn’t take the test away, but it should have given you a clearer and more productive thought pattern regarding the situation. This is important because when we’re taking a test, we want our thinking brain to be activated. We want to be able to easily access all our prior knowledge so that we can do our very best on the test. This strategy will NOT help you answer questions that you don’t know the answer to, but it WILL help you remain calm and more easily access the answers that you do know. When your Amygdala is activated, your thoughts and brain signals are all scattered, and it’s hard to access anything! (See that First Mindfulness Lesson video for a picture of what those scattered signals look like: https://youtu.be/TF-2X555C4k).
Ok, that’s the Reset Stratedy for test anxiety. The next lesson will touch upon what to do when you get to a question you don’t know the answer to and you start to stress out.