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  • Writer's pictureAli Mansouri

Reducing Test Taking Anxiety (Part 1) - Physical Techniques

Updated: May 24, 2021




Your heart beats faster and faster as the instructor passes out the exams. As you wait to get your copy, the stress becomes overwhelming. In next few moments, your mind is filled with dark thoughts. And finally, once you actually start the dreaded examination, your mind goes completely blank. You stare at the problems - problems that you studied yesterday for hours - and have no idea where to even begin. While you frantically search your memory for a way forward, a familiar voice in your head screams that you aren't good enough and to expect the worst.


Test taking anxiety is a well known feeling that even the most talented students have occasionally experienced. While some students are able to find ways to overcome it, millions of others struggle with it In this series of articles, I will list some proven methods to help reduce test taking anxiety - through hacking your body, changing your mindset, and implementing certain habits. Of course, I want to emphasize that nothing in this series will help a student that did not properly study the material (though Elm Tutors can give you plenty of help with that). Assuming that you are keeping up with the class, the following techniques should be quite helpful in calming yourself down and achieving optimal performance:


Physical Techniques


1. Stay Active


In study after study, regular exercise has been shown to reduce the body's stress hormones, particularly cortisol, and stimulate the production of endorphins, which elevate your mood. Even if you don't play on a sports team or have a gym membership, taking a half hour walk every day can calm you down and help you regulate your anxiety levels.


2. Get Proper Sleep

You need to get a full 8 hours of sleep to be properly alert. Being sleep deprived weakens your brain's ability to learn and recall information. And it's not just the night before the test either. Sleep deficit can build up from several days before. If you have a test on Monday, you need to make sure to be getting proper rest from at least the Friday before. This may sound simple, but 90% of students lack the self discipline to consistently do this.


3. Breathing Exercises


Regulating your breathing can be incredibly powerful in controlling the way you feel. Slowing down and concentrating on your breath will help your body rapidly reach a state of relaxation. One well known technique is the 5-5-7 breathing - inhaling slowly for 5 seconds, holding your breath for 5 seconds, then exhaling for 7 seconds. Regardless of what technique you use, focus on breathing slowly and deeply so your stomach is expanding outward with each inhale. Controlled breathing is particularly effective immediately before you are about to begin a difficult test to calm yourself down and get started confidently.


4. Progressive Muscle Relaxation


Progressive muscle relaxation is a little known simple but powerful technique to guide your body to reach a stress free state. It involves progressively tensing and relaxing different muscles in your body. Progressive muscle relaxation works wonders in students that are so tense from stress throughout the day that they lose sight of what being relaxed even feels like.


Start off by taking a few deep breaths. Then, inhale slowly and tense each muscle group (for example curl your hand into a fist) for about 5 seconds. Next exhale and relax the muscle. Keeping your attention laser focused on each step is critical for this technique. Practice by starting off with your toes, then your calves, then your quads, and keep going up until you reach your eyes (squeeze them shut), and finally your forehead. There are plenty of videos online that you can follow along to help you. Once you have some practice doing this, you'll be able to relax and release your inner stress more effectively by yourself


 

These physical techniques may sound simple, but if consistently practiced can be a complete gamechanger in making stress and anxiety more manageable. The first two form a strong foundation to make sure your body isn't already at a disadvantage before even starting. Then breathing exercises and progressive muscle relaxation can turbocharge you ahead to help you overcome test taking anxiety. In the next two articles, I will go through some critical points that can be used in parallel to this techniques to gain mental mastery over your negative inner dialogue and build stress reducing habits.


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