Millions of Americans suffer from stress and anxiety. It’s important to note, chronic worrying is a mental pattern that can be broken. We often think that stress and anxiety are caused externally, however, external forces are simply triggers of internal thoughts causing the reactions. In this age of High-Stakes testing, many students experience test anxiety. The good news is there are ways to alleviate the stress and anxiety in our lives. These techniques work for both adults and children. Practice these steps and activities daily.
LONG-TERM: Retraining your Brain.
- Focus on your Breathing. Studies show that meditation is the best way to slow the racing thoughts and feeling of panic associated with stress and anxiety. It quiets your body and mind and brings you back into the present moment. The past is history, the future is a mystery and today is a gift. That’s why it’s called, “The Present.” The present moment is where healing takes place and we can retrain our brain. Try to meditate twice a day for at least 15 minutes. There are several apps that you can download that are very helpful for both beginners and experienced meditators.
A simple way to start is discussed in the book, “The Transformation” by Dr. James S. Gordon. He suggests, “Soft Belly” meditation as a simple technique. Slowly inhale through the nose, mouth closed, letting your belly rise, then slowly exhale through the mouth. Repeat this for 2-3 minutes. This calms the brain and your body’s “Flight or Fight” response that is associated with anxiety.
- Question your Anxious Thoughts. Most often we worry about things that will never happen or focus on past experiences thinking they will repeat themselves. Try this activity: Dr. Deepok Chopra suggests creating an action plan. After you have calmed your mind, ask yourself; What anxious thoughts am I having? What evidence do I have the thoughts are true? What evidence do I have the thoughts were NOT true? What are some possible, more positive outcomes? Next create some action steps for each of the above questions and put your plan in motion. Doing the above activities will help quiet your mind and retrain your brain to help manage stress and anxiety in the long term.
SHORT TERM: Use the Mind-Body Connection for Immediate Relief.
The most balanced way to live is in the present moment. Stress hormones like adrenalin and cortisol cause physical responses like fast heartbeats, rapid shallow breathing, and elevated blood pressure. The mind interprets this as fear. We need coping mechanisms since the brain’s natural state is one of balance. When you feel the onset of stress or anxious thoughts, use the power of the mind-body connection to rebalance.
- Close your eyes and take deep breaths.
- Detatch yourself from fearful and worried emotions.
- Ignore the images of worse-case scenarios.
- Let the brain rebalance itself.
STUDENTS AND TEST ANXIETY
In his book, “Anxiety in Schools” Psychology professor Jerrell Cassady notes that between 25 and 40% of students experience test anxiety to some extent. The human brain is one of the most adaptable mechanisms in the world. He suggests the following:
- Change your Definition of Anxiety. He notes how Olympic athletes are often asked were they nervous after a race and 99% will reply, No, they were excited. They have trained themselves to interpret nerves as excitement. He suggests if students start feeling anxious before taking a test, remind themselves, “This is exciting.”
- Prepare and the Grade Will Take Care of Itself. Do tiny things consistently like taking notes and reviewing materials. On test day, think, “I’ve prepared as best I can; now the grade will take care of itself.”
- Relax and Breathe. Most often we breathe in short shallow breaths which causes more tension and leads to stress and anxiety. Practice breathing deeply with the diaphragm. This lowers your blood pressure, relaxes the muscles, quiets the mind, and improves cognitive function. A 2016 study from the Journal of Neuroscience noted a direct link between proper breathing and the ability to recall and recognize objects.
- Activate Tunnel Vision. Don’t get distracted by anything or anyone. Remind your student: a) even if the whole class finishes before them, it doesn’t affect their ability to do well on the test, and b) it’s a waste of time and energy to worry about anything but their own test. (For a list of websites for additional test taking tips email: [email protected])
Although stress and anxiety can be managed, sometimes the help of a Professional Therapist is needed. Visit http://floridapsychology.gov to find one in your area, or ask your physician, employer, Pastor, or friend. Mental health should become a priority in our community. Stay Educated! Stay Connected!