Tips on Reducing Anxiety (so that you control it and it doesn’t control you).
1. Reward yourself for effort. People with anxiety are afraid to start projects, or answer questions, because they fear being wrong so much. If you start a scary math problem or begin a project-tell yourself “Good job. You were scared, and you did it anyway).
2. Use a ton of positive self-talk. Find good things you did & praise yourself in your head or out loud.
3. Use thought-stopping techniques when you get in the negative thought cycle. For example, “Math, I can’t do math, I am STUPID at math, I am going to fail.....NO, I won’t talk to myself that way, I CAN do math. I CAN DO THIS. I am smart and I work really hard. I will NOT fail. If I fail though, my parents, friends, and family still love me. I will not be attacked or beaten up. I will not be stoned with rotten peanuts, and I bet I will do better than I think I will.” Feels odd, since you are probably used to beating yourself up in your head, but it will work if you do it.
4. Learn relaxation techniques (listed below). Practice them 2-3 times a day, so that you can do them before & during the test. These will take practice and it will be hard, BUT, there is NO RIGHT OR WRONG WAY TO DO THEM:) You can adjust them to fit you & your situation. The idea is to get your mind of the source of the anxiety (stupid tests) and be more in the present and focus on your body, so that your mind can relax & focus on what is most important.
A. Deep breathing. Inhale slowly through your nose on a count of 5, exhale very slowly on a count of 10 through your mouth. Pay attention to your breathing and imagine the breath is stress & anxiety leaving your body.
B. Close your eyes & imagine a place & time where you are most relaxed. Then imagine what you would hear, smell, and feel at that place. Really focus on being there in your head, so that you can give your brain a break. Your body will naturally start to relax as you remember & start to almost “experience” that place.
C. Progressive muscle relaxations
Starting with your toes and moving up, tighten/squeeze your muscles as tight/hard as you can for a count of 5. Then let them out for a count of 3. Move to one foot, then the other, then one calf, then the other, then one thigh, then the other, then your rear, then your belly, then your fingers on one hand, then the hand, then do your hands one at time, then your arms one at a time, then your shoulders (both), then your neck, and finally your face. You should feel less tense when you are done.
5. Exercise daily. Moderate to rigorous exercise helps reduce stress AND burn off excess energy.
6. Get good sleep. Turn off all electronics (yes cell phone/tablet/tv ) & do non-stimulating things before bed (like reading a physics textbook). Make sure your room is dark, quiet (use a fan or humidifier to filter out noises), and cool.
7. Consider taking melatonin to help regulate sleep (talk to your doctor to make sure it is ok).
8. Avoid caffeine when possible. It will ramp you up & make anxiety worse.
9. Get some sunshine & time outside. Both are proven to lift moods & reduce anxiety.
10. Fish oil has been shown to reduce anxiety (and depression in people with clinical depression). Talk with your doctor to see if taking fish oil would be safe. The fish oil needs high levels of EPA to be most effective.
Dr. Sarah Graves, LSSP