Test Anxiety – How to Beat It

Nearly everyone feels amped up or nervous before taking a test. In fact it’s uncommon to experience no sense of test anxiety or excitement before a test. The challenge comes when your child feels too anxious and can’t think straight, which leads to performance interference.

Although everyone feels test anxiety in a different way, here are some common experiences:

  • Physical: sweating, heart racing, metallic taste in mouth, butterflies in stomach, feeling light-headed or nauseous,
  • Cognitive: racing thoughts, self-doubt, telling yourself you can’t do this, dread, comparing yourself to others
  • Emotional: fear, depression, anxiety, nervousness, helplessness, laughing uncontrollably

When these above experiences are occurring, they can be overwhelming. The brain has a limited number of information highways that can process input and output. So, if these experiences are taking up those highways, this creates a traffic jam for the important information to pass through. Thus, even if your child has studied and knows the material well, they may have a hard time applying the information when it’s needed.

Even if your child has been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and they have experienced anxiety since a young age, they can learn new skills to help them prevent rises in anxiety and to effectively manage it at test time.

Take a look at these tips for test anxiety. Some will work for your child and some won’t. Your child may have already tried these, and now may be a good time to re-visit their effectiveness:

  • Pay attention to your self-talk: Is it positive or negative? Challenge those anxious thoughts and thinking traps that are leading to feelings of anxiety (e..g, I’m stupid and no matter how hard I studied I never remember the answers). Replace those thoughts with realistic thoughts (e.g., I studied this week and I’m prepared. I will do the best I can and focus on this test, one question at at time).
  • Deep Breathing Techniques: count four breaths in, five breaths out. The slower you breath out, the slower your heart rate will go.
  • Progressive Muscle Relaxation: While sitting at your desk sequentially tense and relax different muscles starting from the toes and moving up to the head. This trains you to take control of your body, rather than allowing the body to take control of you.
  • Mindfulness: Create a daily fie-minute mindfulness practice to encourage calm and regulated thoughts. Check out our page on mindfulness activities to learn more.
  • Get Some Exercise: This is a regular habit that has been shown to decrease anxiety and depression, increase the release of endorphins, and lead to more confidence in daily life an stressors.

Paradox Psych Services is a child and teen therapy center with two Carlsbad locations: Bressi Ranch and Aviara Parkway. Our teen therapists at Bressi Ranch are also near San Marcos. We offer an action and goal-oriented approach to child and teen therapy. To learn more about our services, contact us today for a free phone consultation.

About Susan Gehrig, PhD

Susan Gehrig, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist and founder of Paradox Psychological Services located in Carlsbad. She has a passion for supporting the wellbeing of children and teens. Her expertise is in child mindfulness and self-compassion, cognitive behavioral therapy, and child development. Dr. Gehrig provides psychoeducational testing and therapy services to help build a plan for success. Paradox provides services for families of San Diego North County and greater areas.

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