March 24

5 Ways to Overcome Test Anxiety from the Inside Out

Christy Shutok, LMHC, LPC

Test anxiety can be crippling. Upcoming tests can cause any number of emotions. From minor stress to major anxiety, students can react differently, and at different developmental ages. Here are some tips and tricks for you and your child to start practicing now. It is always important to practice skills weeks before a test when you have plenty of time and do not feel rushed.

Awareness 

Begin to be aware of your own emotional state. Throughout the day, our nervous systems fluctuate between three states: socially connected and engaged, activated fight or flight, or shutdown collapsed state. Behaviors, thoughts, and feelings look different in these states. Start to explore what state your child is in and why, when they are preparing for a test. Are they calm and matter of fact? Or are they worrying about failing and express anxiety? Or maybe they have detached, or shutdown and given up because they have become so overwhelmed.

Co-regulation

Co-regulation occurs when a parent helps their child regulate their emotions. Children are unable to “self-regulate” because they do not have the resources, internal or external, to do this. Children rely on adults to accomplish this. The best tactic a parent can use is to stay calm and regulated when their child gets upset to bring them back to that socially connected and engaged state.

Choose a Power color or power word 

Brainstorm with your child internal resources. Choose a color or word that has meaning for your child and gives them superpower strength. One example could be, if your child chooses red, like Superman’s cape, start using red to connect them with feeling strong. On the day of the test, have them wear something red that reminds them of their own strength to tackle the test. Or if your child chooses a word, start using that word weeks before the test in various environments where your child feels successful. On the day of the test, write that word on a sticker or on the inside of their hand so they have that resource with them to conquer the exam.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness can help your student learn ways to bring themselves into the present moment. Things like doodling, coloring, anything crafty, listening to music, belly breathing, tossing a ball, swimming, can all be great ways to live in the moment and not worry about future stressors. The more time they spend in this socially connected state of feeling good with mindfulness, the more likely they can recreate this on the day of the test.

Enhance the senses

Use all the senses to help your child connect to feeling good. Using essential oils or scratch and sniff stickers can sooth your child’s nervous system. Or perhaps wearing soft socks or clothing can enhance a sense of feeling comfortable and secure. Maybe it is listening to a song that helps them feel confident and relaxed. Use these techniques at home and have your child choose one or two of their favorite sensory items, and then use it again on test day.

These are just some of the ways you can tackle test anxiety from the inside out. Start small and just keep practicing. Repetition builds a conditioned response. By the time that test approaches, you and your child will feel confident and prepared!

For more information on how EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) can treat performance anxiety, go to www.emdria.org to find a local EMDR therapist in your area.

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