Banish the Beast: Test Anxiety

You’re walking along, about to step into the pedestrian crosswalk on a green light, when out of nowhere a car screeches around the corner and rushes past just inches from you. You stop, put a hand on your chest as if to hold in your pounding heart, feel a cold shiver run through your entire body, as you realize you could have been killed by that crazy driver. You start feeling ill and hyperventilate as you think about all the horrible ways your body could be splattered all over the intersection, or perhaps dragged along …




This is the fight or flight reaction that humans are hard-wired to produce when something happens. Some people get this physical reaction, which worsens as the negative thoughts continue, when they take tests. Your body is getting ready to run or fight, so the blood is rushing to your muscles – it’s hard for your brain to work effectively under this condition!


The good news is that you can learn to reduce your stress and anxiety in any situation, including tests. There are three major steps to solving your test anxiety, and the more you practice these the sooner and more effectively will you banish the beast.


  1. NOTICE how you feel when anxious. It takes practice to identify those feelings, whether it’s rapid breathing or a feeling of dread or whatever. These feelings are your clue to move to step 2.
  2. BREATHE in and out 3 times calmly and deliberately, noticing how your body feels when breathing. Try ‘feeling’ the air move across your upper lip, or feel how your ribs and diaphragm expand then relax. This centers you back in reality (where no one is telling you that you’re a failure).
  3. THINK POSITIVELY to replace those nasty, defeatist thoughts that are causing your anxiety.


Don’t dismiss these simple steps as too easy to be effective. Here’s how it works.


Our feelings follow our thoughts. It’s our thoughts that are causing the stress and anxiety we feel, in every stressful situation. This means we can change how we feel based on our thoughts. Of course, it takes practice to first identify what thoughts you are having that are causing stress, then to IGNORE those thoughts and replace them with positive thoughts.


Instead of thinking you’re going to fail the course and never achieve your dreams, think “I studied well for this exam and I know this material.” Keep repeating positive thoughts as you breathe deliberately and calmly. Then go back to the test. And back to breathing and positive thoughts as you get stressed again. It takes practice to stop the anxiety before it begins, but this method works in any and every stressful situation.


Let’s go back to the distressed pedestrian in the beginning. Her stress will either end soon because she will think positive thoughts like, “I’m glad he missed me” or “What a good story to tell”; OR she will be upset and possibly ill all day (or for many days!) by thinking negative thoughts like “I could have been killed!” or “What if that car had hit me – I don’t have good health insurance!” or “How can I walk to school any more on that dangerous road!”



Jeremiah Johnson, MA, BS

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