Testing Anxiety Strategy: The 4 Count Breath

Updated: Apr 5, 2019

Testing is a fact of life, a least while you're in school. And I don't have any solutions for knowing all the answers. Nor do I have any suggestions for how to choose the best option on a multiple choice test. Well, I do. But that's not what this lesson is about.

Today, we're going to talk about what to do when you are in the middle of a test and you panic. Sometimes, we get to a question that we don't know the answer to. If our thinking brain remains in control when this happens, we are able to use our creativity and problem solving strategies to at least make an educated guess.

Unfortunately, sometimes when we get stuck on a question, this activates our Amygdala. When our security guard is alerted, our body reacts as if we are in physical danger. It starts releasing stress hormones, and our brain signals scatter. As long as our Amygdala is in control, we have very little chance of being successful at answering the current question. Not only that, as long as it's activated, we may have trouble with the rest of the exam- even when we know the answers to the other questions!

That's where mindfulness comes in. The first step is to NOTICE that our Amygdala has activated. If you start to panic, feel scared, shake, or your mind goes blank, it's highly likely that your Amygdala has hijacked your brain.

Sometimes, simply noticing that our Amygdala is triggered is enough to self-correct. Often times, just the practice of noticing that our fear response kicked in, but that we are not actually in danger, is enough to move us into our Prefrontal Cortex where we can make better decisions.

Every once in a while, we need to use a different strategy to get back on track. In this instance, I like to use 4 count breathing.

I love 4 count breathing because it's something you can do anytime, anywhere. It's quick and it doesn't require any materials. No one even has to know you're doing it!

Here's how to do it:

1. Take a deep breath to the count of 4. Breathe in 2,3,4.

2. Hold that breath for the count of 4. Hold 2,3,4.

3. Breathe out to the count of 4. Breathe out 2,3,4.

4. Hold to the count of 4. Hold 2,3,4.

5. Repeat steps 1-4 a few times, until you feel calm.

That's all there is to it! It's quick and easy and will move you into the thinking part of your brain. The more you practice 4 count breathing, the better and faster your brain gets at noticing that it's time to relax and focus.

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