Test anxiety can disturb your system in a big way, from insomnia to gastrointestinal issues like nausea and diarrhea. If you suffer from severe nervousness before an important exam, you might need to make a few changes in your eating habits. These changes won’t eliminate test anxiety, but will lessen the digestive symptoms and provide vitamins to help your body cope with stress.
Avoid excess caffeine. That extra cup of coffee or energy drink may help you study for longer periods of time, but it can wreak havoc on your digestive tract. Use caffeinated drinks sparingly, if at all, during the weeks before your exam.
Drink alcohol in moderation. Wine, beer, and other alcoholic drinks may take the edge off your anxiety for a while, but the next day you will have trouble concentrating and remembering. Try not to drink too much in the weeks before the exam, and never drink alcohol the night before your test date.
Eat light, high-protein meals. Simple meals that are easily digested and pack a lot of healthy nutrients are the best way to power up for the exam. Try toast with a thin layer of peanut butter and a glass of skim milk for breakfast, fruit and tuna for lunch, and lean chicken breast with salad for dinner. Eat simply and healthfully to boost your mental stamina.
Avoid high-fat, high-sodium foods. Greasy high-sodium foods will weigh you down both mentally and physically, and lead to “brain fog” that will interfere with test performance. If you can’t get enough fatty foods, save your craving for after the exam.
Morning Routines that Beat Test Anxiety
If you have a big test coming up, you may be missing out on the best study tool yet: a solid morning routine. Morning is a great time to get a head start on reducing test anxiety. Here’s how:
After you hit the alarm, stretch! Animals and babies stretch when they wake up, but somewhere along the way, many of us adults forgot how to have a good stretch. Stretching out the muscles after waking up can help you feel more alert and less anxious throughout your day.
Review your study plan before heading out the door. This is vital! If you have time to study in the morning, then do so. But because most of us are too busy getting out the door to focus on studying, a quick glance over your study plan will remind you of what needs to be done. Check your calendar. Have you scheduled time to study today? Will you need to take your study materials with you so you can study during lunch? Reviewing your study plan can help you beat procrastination and stay on track.
Set your alarm 30 minutes early if necessary. As the test date comes closer, you may begin to have those waves of anxiety and begin to doubt your readiness. If this happens, you may want to go to bed a little earlier than normal, so that you have time to wake up early and study for about 30 minutes before your day begins. For some people, morning can be their most productive time because the rest of the household is quiet and there are no distractions.
Evening Routines that Beat Anxiety
Did you know that you can dramatically reduce your test anxiety in just a few minutes before bed? Here’s how:
Go to bed earlier. It seems like you have a billion things to do before you can hit the sack, but do all of those things really need to be done tonight? Or maybe just before bedtime is when you check your favorite social networking page to see what your friends are doing, and before you know it half the night is over. Save that late-night productivity or web-surfing until after the big exam -- sleep deprivation can damage your ability to study, retain information, and concentrate. Lack of sleep also interferes with your ability to cope with stress.
Quickly review what you studied that day. Once you’ve changed into your PJs, you might want to grab your study notes and review your most recent study session. Don’t spend too much time on it, though -- you don’t want to lose any sleep! But, before you turn out the lights, quickly reviewing what you studied will help you remember the material better.
Keep a notepad by your bed. People who have test anxiety often have trouble falling asleep. Get in the habit of using a notepad to record any evening thoughts -- things you need to do tomorrow, some piece of information you want to look up, and so on. This is a good way to release the thoughts in your head that keep you awake. Once you’ve written them down, you can let them go until the morning when you will have the time to deal with them.
Practice relaxing your muscles. When you’re tucked into bed and the lights are out, try this exercise: Starting with your feet, tense your muscles tightly while you breathe in (to the count of five), then release the muscle tension as you exhale, and focus on the relaxed sensation. Repeat with every major muscle group, moving upward and ending with your face. While this is a great way to relax before bed and bring on better sleep, it is also practice for the actual exam when you may need to do some muscle relaxation exercises in your chair to relieve anxiety.
Exercise to Curb Anxiety
Recent studies show that in addition to cardiovascular benefits, regular exercise can also promote good mental health by reducing anxiety and depression. While test anxiety is a situational type of mental health disturbance, exercise can dramatically reduce the symptoms and help you better cope with stress overall.
Check out these tips for a great anti-anxiety exercise routine:
Exercise aerobically for at least 20 minutes, several times a week. Aerobic exercise is any form of exercise that increases your heart rate over an extended period of time. Common forms of aerobic exercise include brisk walking, jogging, running, cycling, swimming, or even dancing. Pick something that you enjoy so you will want to continue over the weeks and months to come. If you get tired of it, you may want to change the type of exercise to keep things interesting.
Don’t be afraid to sweat. Vigorous exercise like running, jogging, basketball, and others will increase your heart rate and cause you to sweat. Exercise to the point of sweating will help to release toxins from your body and reduce water-weight gain. A good, hard workout will also increase the natural “feel-good” chemicals in your body, which is sometimes referred to as a “runner’s high.”
Practice deep breathing. While you’re exercising, don’t forget to breathe deeply from your diaphragm. Deep breathing increases oxygen flow to the brain and muscles, helping your overall concentration and physical performance.
Make it regular. A regular exercise routine (a couple of times a week, for at least several weeks) will lower your overall anxiety level and help you to better cope with stress. If you have a gym membership, plan to go when you have time (or make time!). If the gym isn’t your thing, go for a jog around the neighborhood or bicycle around a nearby lake, and have a back-up plan for bad-weather days.
Happy Thoughts to Beat Test Anxiety
Do you have a big test coming up that has your stomach tied in knots? There’s nothing funny about test anxiety, but sometimes having a sense of humor can help you see the silver lining. Next time you experience test anxiety, flip the fear around with some of these fun thoughts:
Picture your fellow test takers as zoo animals. Imagine that you’re sitting in the testing center, feeling very nervous. Look around at the others in the room and, instead of comparing yourself to them (“Oh, he looks like he has this completely under control,” or “I bet she isn’t nervous like me”), try picturing them as your favorite animals. Maybe that guy in front of you will sprout elephant ears, or the girl behind you will begin chattering like a monkey. Be creative with your picture -- do some people become butterflies and fly around the room? Don’t be afraid to come up with something crazy -- the sillier, the better.
Remember a time when you felt most carefree.Maybe it was during your childhood, when you climbed up into a tree and could see for miles. Or perhaps it was when you first got out on your own as a young adult, and you felt invincible and free. The memory will be different for all of us, but the effect is the same: Remembering positive life events will lower your anxiety level. So close your eyes and relive the moment.
Think about your pet, if you have one. Studies show that pet owners are less stressed overall than non-pet owners. There’s something about the unconditional devotion or your dog, cat, fish, or iguana that eases tension. If you have a pet, spend some time with it each day, and during times of stress imagine yourself playing with it.
When all else fails, blow it up (figuratively, of course). This is another imagination exercise that can work wonders for your stress level. Right now this test may seem like the most important thing in the world, but in the big scheme of things, it really doesn’t matter much. So go ahead -- imagine blowing up the test. Maybe some of the zoo animals in the room are startled by the blast and start running around in circles. Maybe the elephant sprays water on the fire with his trunk. When you feel yourself smiling at the silliness, then return to the actual test and it won’t seem as threatening.