Exam Anxiety: Here’s How to Shake It (And Put In A Stellar Performance)

Exam Anxiety: Here's a Way to Shake It (And Put in a Stellar Performance)

The world can tend to feel a bit different at exam time, thanks to stress, exhaustion and way too many not so healthy (but so delicious) study snacks. And then there’s anxiety, hanging on a little too tightly. If only during the exam it would take itself quietly off to, you know, somewhere else, there would be no problem, but it doesn’t tend to work like that.

When it’s there it feels awful and can affect performance. You have enough to worry about at exam time so anything that can turn down the dial on exam anxiety has to be a good thing, right? Well here you go …

Researchers have found that a simple writing exercise can ease exam anxiety and greatly improve exam performance.

In a recent study, college students were given the opportunity to unload their test anxiety by writing about their exam worries for ten minutes before an exam. The idea was that by doing this, the valuable mental resources that were being taken up by worrying were freed up and made available to work on the exam.

According to associate professor of psychology Sian Beilock who co-authored the study, stressful situations take up working memory – the part of the brain that powers the retrieval and use of information. We only have a limited amount of memory, so the more that’s used up by worrying, the less there is available to nail the exam.

 Beilock is an expert on ‘choking under pressure’, a phenomenon that sees really capable people falling apart at the point of performance, not just in an exam room but also on the sports field, a high-stakes business meeting, an interview or anywhere there’s high pressure.

The Study: What they did.

 As part of the study, college students were given two maths tests. In the first one there was no pressure – students were told just to do their best.

The second one though! Just before the exam, researchers told students that the ones who did well would receive money and that other people in the team were depending on their success. On top of this, they were told that they would be recorded and reviewed by other teachers. Stressed yet?

Half the students were given ten minutes to write about how they were feeling about the test. The other half were told to just sit quietly.

What they found:

The students who wrote about their worries showed a 5% improvement in accuracy between the first maths test (given before the writing) and the second maths test (given after the writing). The group of students who didn’t write showed a 12% drop in accuracy between the two tests.

All up, that’s a 17% difference in performance between the people who wrote and the people who didn’t.

The results were replicated in a subsequent study with 9th grade biology students. Before an important finals exam, students were instructed to either write about how they felt about the test or to think about topics that weren’t related to the test.

Those who didn’t write had higher anxiety and performed worse than those who had, even when the student’s ability was taken into account. The writing task seemed to level the effect of anxiety – those in the writing group who had high exam anxiety performed just as well as though who weren’t as anxious. Out of the high anxiety students, those who wrote before the test averaged a B+ whereas the non-writers averaged a B-.

And finally …

The effect seems to be brought about writing specifically about thoughts and feelings related to the test, not just by writing in general.

Writing about your worries in relation to the task at hand is likely to be something that will help performance in all types of challenging situations – speeches, presentations, interviews, sports – not just exams. That’s good news for everyone – the world could always do with more brilliance. Exams measure ability and talent at a single moment in time and the reading of true potential can be skewed if anxiety steps in. Anything that can let potential shine through regardless of confidence or the tendency to be anxious is a good thing.

Pen, paper, now go be awesome.

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One of our rituals was in the week before Christmas, we’d go shopping and each kiddo would choose a keepsake decoration for the tree. This would forever be their decoration. To make sure we’d remember who owned what (a year is a long time!) I wrote their name and year on the box. The idea is that when they leave home, they’ll have a collection of special decorations for their own tree, plump with throwbacks (‘Oh I remember when we bought this!).

Then of course there was Christmas morning. Santa would leave a note on the table and bootprints on the front path, which smelled remarkably like talcum powder. So magical the way the snow was under the boot and never melted, even in an Australian summer! But that’s the magic of Christmas, right?!

We often put so much pressure on ourselves to make Christmas magical. Rituals can make this easier. They get the special memories, you get to make the ‘magic’ without having to come up with something new and different each year.

It’s very likely that there will already be Christmas rituals happening in your family, even if you don’t realise it. Ask them what they remember most, or what they loved most about last Christmas, aside from the presents.

They might surprise you with things you’d completely forgotten about, or which at the time didn’t seem to be a biggie. It can be the simplest things. Maybe they loved the way they were allowed to have ice-cream with pancakes at breakfast last Christmas. (Ice-cream at breakfast?! Told you Christmas was magical!!). 

If it’s what they remember, and if it lights them up, let it become a ‘thing’. Maybe they loved the magic ‘neverending carrot’ sprinkles you put on the scrawny carrot you found in the vege drawer (remembering reindeer groceries can be so hard sometimes!)

You’d be surprised what they find special. It doesn’t have to be big to feel magical.

What are your Christmas rituals? Let’s share ideas in the comments.♥️
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Because sales are the best, and Christmas is the best, and helping kiddos find their brave is the very best of all! So, to celebrate the end of the year (because truly, it's been a year hasn't it), and to help you settle brave hearts for next year, or night times, or separations, or, you know, all the things, we're taking 25% off books and plushies in the Hey Sigmund shop.

There's no need to enter a code. The books and bundles are already marked with their special sale prices. You'll find them all there - plushies, books, bundles - doing shopping cartwheels, beside themselves excited about helping your young ones feel bigger than anxiety, and shimmy on to brave. 
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It can feel as though the only way to strengthen them against their anxiety is to make sure they have nothing to worry about, but when their worries are real this might not happen quickly. 

Instead, we need to focus on helping them know that even though those worries are there, they will be okay. ‘Not worrying’ isn’t the antidote to anxiety, trust is. This will start with trust in you and your belief that they will be okay, and trust in your reaction if things don’t go to plan. Eventually, as they grow this will expand into trust in themselves and their own capacity to find their way through challenges to a place of hope and strength. 
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#parenting #parentinglife #parenting #parent #parents #mindfulparent
Strong steady breathing will reverse the fight or flight physiology that causes nausea, butterflies, or sick or sore tummies during anxiety. BUT telling an anxious brain to take a strong steady breath will potentially make anxiety worse unless strong steady breathing feels familiar. Practising during calm times will make it familiar. 

During anxiety we’re dealing with their amygdala, and it wants short shallow breathing to conserve oxygen. It doesn’t want strong steady breathing and will work hard to resist this. 

An anxious brain is a busy brain and it will be less able to do anything unfamiliar. A few minutes of strong steady breathing each day will set up a strong neural pathway to make strong breathing more automatic and accessible during anxiety. 

In the meantime though, you can do it for them. This is the magic of co-regulation. When you do strong steady breathing during their anxiety, it will calm your nervous system which will eventually calm theirs. You will catch their anxiety, and this will feed into their anxiety. Your strong steady breathing is the circuit breaker. They will catch your anxiety, but they will also catch your calm. Don’t worry if this takes a few minutes (and maybe a few more after that). Anxious brains are strong, powerful, beautiful brains working hard to protect. Breathe and be with. This will open the way for that distressed young nervous system to find its way home. And you don’t need to do more than that.♥️
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#heywarrior #parenting #bravekids #anxietyinkids #kidsanxiety #parent #parenthood
Needs and behaviour can get tangled up and treated as one. When you can, separate the need from the behaviour. Give voice to the need - let it find a way to breathe - and redirect the behaviour. 

The need might always be clear, especially if it’s being smothered by angry shouting words. If we stifle the behaviour without acknowledging the need, the need stays hungry. Help usher it into the light by making it clear that you’re ready to receive it. Then wait. Wait for the big behaviour to ease, for bodies to calm, and angry voices to soften - but keep the way to you open. ‘You’re a great kid and I know you know that behaviour wasn’t okay. Talk to me about what’s happening for you.’

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