Exam stress and anxiety can be combatted and minimized

Let’s face it: stress hits most people at some point or another. Students pride themselves on their ability to stay up late studying, to keep up with social networking and to attend events during crunch time. Drowned in activity, they forget to come up for air and end up tumbling into anxiety and despair.

Stress creates a fight-or-flight response by preparing the body physically and cognitively to detect and deal with threats to our well being. In extreme circumstances, the body responds by breathing faster, which leads to hyperventilation. When students experience anxiety, cortisol and adrenaline flood their bloodstream, which cause muscles to tighten and vessels to constrict.

The hormones released during anxiety weaken the body’s immunity and put the victim at risk of becoming ill, which does not bode well if the student has an exam coming up. According to The American Psychological Association, stress is a top health concern for U.S. teens in high school. Most psychologists believe that if the students don’t learn healthy ways to manage that stress now, it could have serious long-term health implications.

Although the body’s response can have negative effects, having a healthy level of stress is good. For example, a manageable amount of pressure could lead to higher academic performance by increasing motivation and setting goals. Stress shows that people care and value things, which creates a feeling of accomplishment once the goal is completed.

According to researchers Gregory J. Cizek and Samantha S. Burg, 25 to 40 percent of students are affected by exam stress and those that are typically perform 12 percent lower than their non-anxious peers.

The good news is that stress is manageable. In the midst of a pile of work, it is important to see things in perspective. Step back, take a deep breath and decide what’s really important. Then, make a schedule and start working. Study with friends, but remember to collaborate rather than compete. Most importantly, change your location. People need variety in their study habitats. A new location provides fresh, inspirational vibes that help students focus.

Try maintaining a positive mindset. Positive thinking enhances students’ ability to perform on tests. When students grow anxious, they start thinking negatively. Talking oneself out of a discouraging mentality distracts attention from what is making a student stressed.

When taking tests there are concrete ways to lessen stress. Prioritize problems on the test. If something is unknown, put a question mark next to it and come back when everything else is done. Focusing on one problem often causes the mind to think failure is inevitable.

Don’t try to be perfect: it’s great when students succeed, but failure is bound to happen. Take that failure and do better on the next test.

Don’t rush with tests. Spend enough time on each problem but make sure not to spend too much time. Save time to go over the test 5 minutes before the end.

Plan things out. Make sure to sleep well the night before a major test and eat a healthy breakfast. Pick a seat away from doors to avoid distraction. Plan out how much time you have and how long to spend on each problem.

Stress does not need to be a daunting set-back when you have the proper tools to understand and manage it.

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