5 Exercises & Tips to Lower Your Anxiety Before a Big Exam

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For many of us, college was absolutely the best time in our lives. The freedom and friendships made those four years incredibly special. But college isn’t all sparkles and unicorns. For others, college is a completely different and often negative experience.

As fun as it can be, it’s also incredibly stressful, especially when it comes time to take an exam. The bigger and more important the exam is, the more we tend to suffer from anxiety. This anxiety can then cause us to actually struggle or even fail the exam. If this scenario sounds all too familiar to you, then use the following tips and exercises to help lower your anxiety before the next big exam you take:

1. Breathe Deeply

When we feel fear, our body can go into an adrenaline-fueled panic mode. This chemical and physical reaction is how our ancestors survived numerous threats. But in this state, our minds do not function properly. In fact, they often go completely blank.

When we take slow, deep breaths, we help our bodies go from the survival response to a relaxed response. This helps the blood flow back into our brain and helps us focus on the task at hand. You can engage in Deep Belly Breathing, Box Breathing, or just focus on how your breath feels as you inhale and exhale.

2. Change Your Perspective

Most of us think of tests as something designed specifically to trick us. The truth is, if you have studied and are totally prepared, then the test is actually an opportunity for you to show off how much you know.

The other truth is your professors WANT you to pass. When you pass, they look good. So stop going into the exam with a negative attitude and go in feeling confident and knowing your teachers want you to do well.

3. Start Strong

To set the right tone for the test, scan it to find those questions you are 100% sure about and answer those first. This will help you feel confident and put your mind into a free-flow thinking state. If you feel stuck on one, then take that deep breath and use a positive affirmation, like "I got this" or "I am okay".

4. Be Realistic

What is your history of taking exams? Have you generally done well in the past? Are you a good student that makes an effort? If so, remind yourself of these facts. It’s easy to have dramatic and unrealistic ideas floating around in your head right before an exam. Thoughts like, “I’m going to fail and then I won’t pass the class and I won’t get my degree and will end up working at Starbucks the rest of my life if I’m lucky.”

This likely won’t happen – or anything like it – so try not to make an already stressful situation worse by being unrealistic. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a helpful intervention to use with a therapist, which helps you to learn how your brain can trick you and how to take back control so it doesn't impact your behaviors.

5. Move Your Body

Make sure to move your body the morning before your exam. This will not only release built-up tension in your muscles, but it will also release “feel-good” endorphins that will put you in a better frame of mind. You can use Progressive Muscle Relaxation or some gentle yoga stretches to help release the stored tension as well.

If you would like some extra help handling the stressors of academic life, please reach out to us today to schedule an appointment.