FINALS! Just the word can trigger a stress response for many people. Most of us have experienced some level of test anxiety in our life whether it began at an early age, kicked up in High School when preparing for college admittance exams, or in college when trying to earn the challenging A. But all of that stress can actually hinder our ability to focus on the minute details required for a successful grade.
What is test anxiety?
Test anxiety is a form of performance anxiety. The student may fear failure, has experienced failure from prior tests, or is overwhelmed and feels unprepared. These causes can trigger a stress response that can cause physical symptoms (panic attack, hyperventilation, rapid heartbeat, excessive sweating), emotional symptoms (feelings of helplessness or fear), and behavioral symptoms (foggy thinking, thinking negatively).
Fight or Flight response
The stress caused by test anxiety causes adrenaline to release into the body. The body goes into a heightened alert state, intended for a threat to our survival. This response from our body is intended for a short period of time while the person is under threat – we breathe faster, our muscles tighten, and we prepare to either fight the threat or run from it. But with exams, there’s no real “threat” and the stressor if much longer than a few minutes, so our body remains in a heightened state for an extended period of time causing the mind to become a bit cloudy and our anxiety to continue to build with no immediate opportunity for release.
According to Health.com, several foods can help support your body during stressful times! Here are a few to get you started:
- Green leafy vegetables like spinach contain folate which produces dopamine, a pleasure-inducing brain chemical that helps you stay calm.
- Turkey breast contains tryptophan which helps produce serotonin, the chemical that promotes feelings of happiness and well-being.
- Oatmeal (and other complex carbs) can support the body’s production of serotonin without spiking blood glucose levels.
- Salmon is rich in omega-3, a fatty acid that can counteract some of the negative effects of stress hormones.
- Blueberries can help your body fight the internal battle when under stress including stress-related free radicals. They also help boost immunity which can become taxed when under pressure.
- Pistachios (with the shells) can put your body into a repetitive pattern by shelling the nuts. Rhythmic patterns like knitting, kneading bread, and shelling nuts can help your body and mind relax.
- Dark chocolate (just a bite!) can help reduce cortisol levels. The antioxidants in cocoa can also relax our blood vessels to lower blood pressure and improve circulation.
- Seeds such as flax, pumpkin, and sunflower are all great sources of magnesium which has been shown to help alleviate depression, fatigue, and irritability.
The stress from test anxiety can deplete the body of many nutrients and may cause sleepless nights. Dietary supplements can help support the body to return to its normal calm state.
- Magnesium: As previously mentioned, this critical mineral has been shown to fight depression, fatigue, and irritability.
- B2 & B6: Our B vitamins often take a hit when under stress. Depletion of B2 and B6 can cause headaches as well. Taking a B-complex can help headache prevention while replenishing the body’s B levels to support a healthy nervous system.
- Theanine: When under a stressed state, we may be prone to bouts of anger and rage. Found naturally in green and black teas, Theanine can help smooth the edges to promote a calmer state of mind.
- Astragalus: When under stress, our body’s defenses may be reduced. Found in our Immune System Support, Astragalus is an herb that helps strengthen the body’s immunity.
- Bupleurum: Used for over 2,000 years in Asian medicine, Bupleurum is the top ingredient in our Stress Support. This herb has been used for promoting a calm state of mind while supporting cognitive function without negative side effects such as daytime fatigue or addiction.
Support & Preparation
The ADAA has also created this helpful list for identifying ways to find support and to better prepare for those dreaded exams.
- Be prepared. Develop good study habits. Study at least a week or two before the exam, in smaller increments of time and over a few days (instead of pulling an "all-nighter"). Try to simulate exam conditions by working through a practice test, following the same time constraints.
- Develop good test-taking skills. Read the directions carefully, answer questions you know first and then return to the more difficult ones. Outline essays before you begin to write.
- Maintain a positive attitude. Remember that your self-worth should not be dependent on or defined by a test grade. Creating a system of rewards and reasonable expectations for studying can help to produce effective studying habits. There is no benefit to negative thinking.
- Stay focused. Concentrate on the test, not other students during your exams. Try not to talk to other students about the subject material before taking an exam.
- Practice relaxation techniques. If you feel stressed during the exam, take deep, slow breaths and consciously relax your muscles, one at a time. This can invigorate your body and will allow you to better focus on the exam.
- Stay healthy. Get enough sleep, eat healthfully, exercise and allow for personal time. If you are exhausted—physically or emotionally—it will be more difficult for you to handle stress and anxiety.
- Visit the counseling center. Schools are aware of the toll exams can take on students. They have offices or programs specifically dedicated to helping you and providing additional educational support so that you can be successful.
Whatever option works best for you, we wish you the best of luck on your upcoming exams!