Test Anxiety & How to Treat It

September, 2019

Most people get nervous before taking a test. In fact, feeling nervous motivates us to study so we can pass! But for some students, it goes beyond feeling nervous to the point that it causes them to freeze up and be unable to perform well. In this section, we discuss the definition and symptoms of test anxiety and how students can prevent it from getting out of control.

Best Schools in Thane - Test Anxiety & How to Treat It
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What is it?

Students with test anxiety become so anxious that it causes a physical response. They may feel their heart beating fast, begin to sweat and become nauseous. Unfortunately, the more they are preoccupied with the anxious feelings, the more anxious they become, creating a seemingly never-ending cycle. In other words, it's the worrying about worrying that gets in the way.

What are the symptoms?

The main symptom of test anxiety is an accelerated heart rate. However, there are additional physical, emotional, and behavioral symptoms that can occur. For instance, students may feel light-headed, have digestive problems and sweat profusely. It's also common to become angry and scared and feel disappointed in yourself. All these symptoms make it impossible to concentrate.

How can students handle it?

Therapist Jessica Tappana explains that knowing how to breathe is an important part of fighting test anxiety. "Breathing helps us to ground and center and feel present. The increased oxygen flow to the brain will help students think more clearly."

Getting a good night sleep and eating a balanced meal in the morning is mandatory, adds mental health professional Stefanie Juliano. College students should avoid substances such as alcohol before a test.

Juliano stresses that knowing your triggers will help. "If you feel yourself tensing, getting a headache, feeling your back hurt, or so on, take a quick break either standing (if able) or seated and continue to breathe. Older students can also investigate alternative practices prior to major tests, such as acupuncture, essential oils, massage or chiropractic care."

Quick Student Stress Busters

Learning how to recognize signs of stress and practicing ways to address these symptoms are important steps on the path to good mental health. Here are some activities from our mental health experts that parents and educators can teach children and teens to get them started.

For Elementary School Kids

Draw your feelings

Children respond well to visual manifestations of stress. Ask them to draw their feelings of stress on a piece of paper. They can use crayons, markers, colored pencils or even paint. Then ask them to crumple up the paper or tear it into pieces. As they get up to throw the paper away, explain to them that they are also throwing away the negative feelings and stressors.

Deep breathing exercises

Breathing exercises are good practice for learning how the body responds when we breathe correctly. Ask children to take a deep breath through the nose and then slowly, slowly, slowly breathe out as though they are blowing bubbles, dandelions or candles on a birthday cake. Remind them to pay attention to how their stomach and chest move in and out.

Protective bubble

This activity models how to feel safe even when feeling stressed. Instruct children to image they are in a big bubble that surrounds them completely. Inside the bubble are all the people and things that make them feel safe like family members, friends, pets and stuffed animals. Let them sit for a few minutes as you prompt them to listen to how their bodies feel in a safe space that they can go to in their minds when they are feeling stressed.

For Middle Schoolers

Silent catch

This activity requires complete silence, so children should be instructed that there is no talking at all. Use a lightweight ball such as a nerf ball to ensure nobody gets hurt. Tell the children to throw the ball to each other but that they can’t throw it to the same person who threw it to them. If they miss, they must sit down. This activity can relieve stress and calm down an anxious classroom.

Learning to stretch

Teach older children how to stretch correctly to relieve tension and help their bodies relax. It can be done at any time of day for a quick break.

Neck: Put your hands behind your back, grasping your right wrist with your left hand. Use your left hand to gently straighten your right arm, pulling it slightly. Lower your left ear toward your shoulder and hold for 30 seconds. Switch to the other side. Repeat with your left wrist and right hand.

Back: Lie on the floor stretching your arms above your head and pointing your toes. Bend your right leg to your chest with your hands behind your knee and hold for 30 seconds. Repeat with the left leg.

For High School Students

Progressive muscle relaxation

Progressive muscle relaxation is a useful tool for teens to relax, especially at night when having trouble falling asleep. They can sit or lay on the floor. Instruct them to relax each part of the body, starting with their toes and working up until they get to their heads. Take time to address each part in detail. Instruct them to repeat what you say in their heads, "I'm relaxing my toes, relaxing the top of my foot, bottom of my foot, etc."

Diaphragmatic breathing

Because breathing becomes erratic when we are stressed, it's helpful to practice breathing from the diaphragm which is the natural method. Lie down, place a hand on your chest and a hand on abs. Breathe in through nose and out through mouth.

Experience classical music

Classical music slows your pulse and heart rate, lowers your blood pressure and decreases stress hormones. Make it a habit to play classical music in the classroom and at home to reduce stress and prevent distractions. Free classical music is available on Spotify and YouTube.

For College Students

Visual imagery

Visual imagery involves using the imagination to create soothing feelings. Using free guided imagery scripts like those available from Healthy Place PSU at Plymouth State University, teaches students how to use visual imagery to feel calm and centered.

Mindfulness meditation

There are many benefits associated with mindfulness including lowered heart rate, decreased stress hormone levels, and better physical and emotional health. Instruct students to sit on floor with their legs crossed. Posture should be straight but relaxed. Have students place their hands on their legs. They should become aware of their breathing, letting their thoughts go. It’s alright if a thought comes, in which case they should acknowledge it and let it go while continuing to breathe in and out.



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