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Tips for Battling Academic Anxiety

Stressful events like standardized tests, final exams, and presentations are a routine part of your academic career. Since stressful situations can’t be avoided, you have to find ways to deal with them that work for you.

Most people experience some form of anxiety leading up to stressful events. The main cause is often being or simply feeling unprepared, even when you are prepared. Perfectionism and high expectations can also increase anxiety.

Keep reading for some tips and tricks to help you through stressful scenarios.

1. Reframe the symptoms of anxiety.

Feeling nervous during high-stakes situations is normal, healthy, and can even be helpful. When under control, the feelings you experience when you are stressed can help you focus and achieve your best performance. Learn to control the anxiety by focusing on it in mindful ways.

You don’t want the physical symptoms of anxiety to lead to feeling overwhelmed, which can hinder your concentration and performance. Instead, reframe the physical symptoms as positives.

Think of similar symptoms you had before athletic events or performances, how you felt physically, and how you used those feelings to help you focus on succeeding. For example, rapid heartbeat and rapid, deep breathing increase blood flow, bringing more oxygen, glucose, and energy to the brain.

2. Prepare yourself physically and mentally.

To manage anxiety in stressful scenarios, physical and mental preparation is just as important as studying or practicing.

  • Rest: Aim to get three good nights of sleep (8-10 hours) leading up to important events. Getting inadequate sleep on a regular basis lowers your intellectual ability and performance.
  • Nutrition: Eat a healthy meal that will keep you full throughout your event. Hunger will zap your focus, cause fatigue, and make you feel mentally “foggy.” Avoid processed foods containing high amounts of fat, sugar, and refined carbohydrates, which will cause you to crash or feel sluggish. Bring a healthy snack to stave off hunger.
  • Exercise: Regular physical exercise reduces stress and improves mood. In the days leading up to your event, try to make time for some exercise. Even a few minutes of low-impact exercise like walking or yoga can be beneficial.
  • Relaxation: Have some fun in the days leading up to your event. While you may be hyper-focused on preparing, taking the time for enjoyable activities like a walk in nature, a good meal with a friend, or hobbies can reduce stress leading up to the big day.
  • 3. Don’t leave anything until the last minute.

    Procrastinating will only contribute to your feeling unprepared, so do everything you can in advance.

    Study or prepare as much as you can well beforehand, so that you’re not scrambling the night before. Ideally, the night before should be relatively relaxed, so that you wake in the morning feeling calm, not frantic.

    Get organized the night before by laying out your clothes, collecting your materials, prepping your food, and packing your bag to save you time in the morning and create a stress-free start to your day.

    4. Techniques for Reducing Anxiety

    These techniques are effective for tests and presentations, and they can also be used in your everyday life. Use any or all of the techniques on the morning of the event, just before it, or during breaks.

    Even brief sessions of deep breathing, visualization, and affirmations can significantly reduce anxiety. Consistent practice helps enormously to reduce stress overall.

  • Deep breathing: When people are anxious, they tend to take quick, shallow breaths. Breathing deeply and slowly sends a message to the brain and body to relax. There are many ways to practice deep breathing, like yoga breathing, belly breathing, or mindful breathing with mediation.
  • Visualization: Picture a mental image that helps you achieve your goals. You can picture yourself succeeding as a form of motivation, or picture yourself in a serene place to relieve anxiety and improve concentration.
  • Affirmations: Also known as positive suggestions, affirmations are short phrases you can silently repeat to yourself to relax and boost confidence. Remind yourself how well you’ve prepared, how well you’ve done previously, and what you’re capable of. For example, “I’m going to do the best that I can, which is all anyone can do.”
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