You’ve woken up late to a test you are not prepared for. There is a crushing sense of impending doom, yet you decide to head to school to take the test. You rush out the door, get to school, look at your test, and see that it is in hieroglyphics. Panic sets in- you don’t know how to decode hieroglyphics…then you realize, this was all a dream. A lot of us have had a variation of this dream (read: nightmare) at least once in our lives. What you have experienced is a form of performance anxiety, namely, test anxiety. Some symptoms of performance anxiety include nightmares, restlessness, inability to focus, flight of ideas, heart palpitations, changes in appetite, neglect of personal hygiene, or changes in mood and sleep patterns, to name a few. All of which are unpleasant and uncomfortable sensations, which may be more common during this time of year as exam season approaches.
Test anxiety is real and valid. It is a common type of situational anxiety that results from placing a great deal of importance on performing well on evaluated tasks, such as tests or exams. The amount of importance we allocate to certain aspects of our lives is directly proportional to the amount of anxiety we may experience in relation to them. For instance, let us look at two neutral activities: Performing well in basketball versus performing well on a test. If it is more important for me to do well in basketball, then I will be more anxious about a basketball game than I would be for an academic test. I will more likely experience the above-mentioned symptoms before, and sometimes during, a basketball game than I would while preparing for or writing a test. Conversely, if I placed more importance on performing well on my test, I will more likely experience anxiety-related symptoms then as opposed to the basketball game. Ultimately, the weight we place on each task largely dictates our thoughts and behaviour prior to, and during task performance.
Anxiety is the brain’s protective mechanism; we need a portion of it to motivate us to achieve our goals and keep us safe. When anxious thoughts are in excess however, they may hinder our performance and thus be counterproductive. Managing anxious thoughts is a valuable skill to have since it helps recalibrate our stance, leading us to a more logically sound perspective. For those of you with tests or exams coming up, here are some reminders to consider when experiencing anxious thoughts about school or performance evaluation:
· This is temporary and shall pass
· This is ONE aspect of your life
· Being anxious about this means that you care
· Explore the facts: What are some facts that outline strengths you have relating to this task? What are some facts about areas of improvement? What can be done about this?
· Outcomes of evaluative tasks are not direct descriptors of your character (i.e. doing bad on a math midterm does not mean you are bad)
· Will this still be a priority in a week? A month? A year?
· Do not procrastinate (if you are currently procrastinating by reading this blog, take this as a sign to get back to work!)
If you or anyone you know are struggling with test or performance anxiety, you may want to consider seeking talk-therapy to help introduce tailored coping skills. To continue this conversation, feel free to reach out with any questions, concerns, elaboration requests, or private consultations. Additionally, if there are other topics you would like me to post about in the blog, send me your recommendations. I can be confidentially reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (647) 493-2991. Until then, remember: This too shall pass. See you next Wednesday!