Maintaining Your Health Helps Beat Test Anxiety

Some Things to Remember this Finals Season

  • Deanna Hewitt

Finals season—that three-week period of time at the end of the semester where students can be found either cramming a few days before their exam or pulling all-nighters fueled by an overdose of caffeine.

All of this pressure provides a unique challenge to students, one that can be called test anxiety.

Test anxiety is a form of performance anxiety. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America explains that, while you may arrive at the exam confident about the material, taking the test becomes “the most difficult part of the equation.”

The symptoms of test anxiety affect three different aspects of human health. Cognitive symptoms are at the base of this form of anxiety. According to the ADAA, common examples of cognitive symptoms include “difficulty concentrating, thinking negatively and comparing yourself to others.”

This type of cognitive battle is most commonly associated with the dreaded “blanking,” or difficulty in remembering known information and strategies. For any student about to walk into an exam room, blanking when you open the test book is the ultimate worst-case scenario.

Emotional symptoms, on the other hand, are a result of the anxiety overpowering your emotional stability. Emotions such as anger, fear, helplessness and nervousness are visible on the faces of those who suffer from test anxiety as they walk into the exam room or wait nervously in the minutes and hours leading up to the test.

Finally, physical symptoms such as headaches, nausea, excessive sweating, rapid heartbeat, and ultimately panic attacks can all occur because of test anxiety.

What is important to recognize about test anxiety is that the symptoms holistically occur by interfering with your mind, emotions, and physical well being at the same time.

In a previous Link article, I wrote about self-care tips for anxiety. I was subsequently interviewed by CBC’s Daybreak Radio about my personal experience battling anxiety and using various forms of self-care as a remedy.

The interview included local physiologist, Virginia Chow, who defined self-care as “looking for a balance between physical health and emotional health.” Similarly, in order to overcome test anxiety, self-care must be applied in a way that enables that balance between good physical and mental health.

Once finals season comes into play, students tend to dedicate hours on end to studying, and end up forgetting the importance and relevance of having a well-rounded health. If you ever find yourself sacrificing sleep, gym sessions, meals, or even events to study, you are doing yourself harm.

As someone who has struggled with test anxiety from a young age, I’ve been able to successfully isolate factors that make me anxious from those that could potentially hinder my performance.

Hear me out—according to ADAA, it can take only five minutes of aerobic exercise can begin to stimulating profound and helpful anti-anxiety effects. “Scientists have found that participation in aerobic exercise has been shown to decrease levels of tension, elevate and stabilize mood, improve sleep, and improve self-esteem.”

If a quick gym session means you get to improve both your mental and physical health simultaneously, it’s worth more than the sedentary hour you’ll spend on the same test question.

Brian Goonan explains the vicious cycle of test anxiety best in his book Overcoming Test Anxiety: Giving Students the Ability to Show What They Know.
“Regardless of its causes, once test anxiety is present, it seems to form a self-sustaining feedback loop. Test anxiety decreases performance on tests, […] which negatively affects self-esteem and confidence; this supports a belief in decreased likelihood for success, which, in turn, further increases test anxiety,” he writes.

Once caught in the loop of test anxiety, a quick escape is no longer an option. This makes it even more important to balance your mental health before finals even begin, to avoid self-induced test anxiety.

As Goonan explains, test scores today largely define an individual’s worthiness when deciding who will benefit from higher education, financial assistance and professional opportunities. This is ultimately the reason as to why so many students become nervous and experience various symptoms before entering the test room—they fear the final result.

As someone who has struggled with test anxiety from a young age, I’ve been able to successfully isolate factors that make me anxious from those that could potentially hinder my performance. By monitoring my physical health, I am able to avoid fatigue, caffeine-induced shaky hands, and balance my blood sugar to avoid physical and emotional symptoms of test anxiety.

Similarly, I put the same effort into balancing my mental health to avoid blanking—a trait my mother was famous for, and she went on to become a successful accountant and CFO.

I have always been a dedicated and diligent student, and have yet to walk into an exam I was not adequately prepared for. My readiness has thus been instrumental in my battle against anxiety, as it has allowed me to temporarily rid my test anxiety the moment the exam starts.

As finals come around I urge students to take the time to prepare themselves for what can be a very stressful period. Don’t walk into an exam “praying for the curve.” Prepare yourself mentally and take care of your body. It is in your power, and yours alone, to do well and not let test anxiety rob you of the marks you truly deserve.

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