Do you feel like you experience test anxiety?
Most students experience some type of test anxiety during their college career. Some people find taking multiple choice tests to be most difficult, while others view essay tests as more difficult. Many students long for the take home final or research paper while others feel much more anxiety in writing their personal thoughts or constructing a cogent research report. Whatever your area of difficulty or high anxiety, research has shown that there are things you can do to alleviate your stress.
The most common misconception about anxiety is that it is bad and you have to get rid of it. Take a deep breath, because I am about to tell you that the goal of changing test anxiety is not to get rid of it but to understand it and feel more in control. Anxiety's best friend is avoidance, so the more you try to avoid your anxiety, the bigger it will get. The more you begin to understand your anxiety and get a perspective on it, the less it will be in the way of your functioning. Breathe.
The Four Components of Anxiety
Anxiety has four different, but related, components:
Cognitive aspects include all of the thoughts that run through your mind before, during, and after the dreaded event (eg.,I have to get an "A" on this test; I am a failure, I don't even know who I am trying to fool).
Emotional aspects of anxiety include the feelings that you experience related to the anxious event (eg., feeling embarrassed, disappointed, happy, relieved, or angry).
Behaviorally, your body often moves differently, or you do things differently when stressed or anxious (walking quickly, fidgeting, drumming your fingers on the desk).
Finally, your body responds to stress and anxiety physiologically (increased sweating, dry mouth, diarrhea, increased urination, increased heart rate, feeling like you're having a heart attack).
Breathe in slowly, deeply....and now, release slowly. Anxiety has it's roots in biology. It can be functional. Anxiety prompts animals to get out of harmful situations and move toward safety. Anxiety is not such a strange phenomenon, but it is what we make of it. A common scenario may be as follows: reading for a test-drinking a soda-fidgeting-difficulty concentrating-more fidgeting-thoughts:I don't know who I'm trying to fool, I just don't get this, I am so stupid--go to the test: while taking the test body fidgets, increased perspiration, maybe some difficulties remembering what you know you know--after the test-I hate myself, why didn't I study, I don't deserve to be on this planet, no wonder people don't take me seriously. Write out your own scenario, think of a time you truly felt anxious, let yourself be there, and write it out. Relax.
The scenario I wrote does not include any feelings. Typically, people leave out one of the four components as they write their scenario. Go back through and fill in the missing components. How did you feel when you were fidgeting and drinking that soda? How did you feel when you said "I hate myself"? The more you understand the cycle of behaviors, thoughts, and feelings involved in your anxiety, the easier you will be able to intervene and do something more adaptive and conducive to success.
Some Basic Tips
- If you have problems with anxiety, do NOT drink caffeine. Caffeine mimics and escalates the symptoms of anxiety.
- Map out your anxiety cycle including thoughts, behaviors, physiological responses and emotions and when they occur in the sequence.
- Talk to people about your stress.
- Know that mental health professionals can help you with your anxiety; there is no reason to suffer.
- Remember to breathe.