Test-Day Anxiety? 3 Brain-Based Techniques to Get Over It

Test-Day Anxiety? 3 Brain-Based Techniques to Get Over It

On test day, do your nerves get the best of you? Does your anxiety cause you to go blank on answers you know? Does your heart beat faster, your breathing quicken and your whole body starts to sweat? It’s so much harder to concentrate and more difficult for your brain to problem-solve when it feels like you’re out of control.

The best way to alleviate exam jitters is to be prepared. For most people, the level of anxiety before and during the exam correlates inversely with the amount of time spent and the efficiency of that time—the more time and efficiency, the less anxiety.

I have treated several patients with severe anxiety, who performed far below their level of competence as a result of it. I gave them a number of strategies that helped them perform better on exam day and earn higher grades.

In my book Change Your Brain, Change Your Grade, I provide a number of science-based techniques you can try to calm your nerves and enhance cognitive function before a test. Here are just three of them.

1. Breathe.

Whenever you feel tense or anxious about a big test, try this simple breathing exercise to help you relax. Deep breathing also increases oxygen to the brain, which decreases brain fog and increases focus—two things that will help you on your exam.

  • Take a deep breath.
  • Hold it for 1 to 2 seconds.
  • Slowly exhale for about 5 seconds.
  • Repeat 10 times to feel more relaxed.

2. Practice meditation or prayer.

Meditation and prayer—as little as 5 minutes a day—have been found to have a number of benefits that can benefit you in test-taking, including:

  • soothing stress
  • sharpening focus
  • boosting moods
  • improving memory
  • enhancing overall prefrontal cortex (PFC) function
  • improving executive function
  • reducing feelings of anxiety, depression, and irritability

3. Harness your senses.

Did you know that your brain is influenced by the environment around you? I call this technique the “Ultimate Brain-Based Therapy” because it allows you to take control of your sensory inputs to get into a better “headspace” before a test.

  • Sight: Take a few moments to look at nature pictures or images of fractals (never-ending, repeating patterns found in nature), which have been found to reduce stress.
  • Sound: Music can calm you down, help you focus, and give you a mood boost. Create a playlist that works for you and listen to it on the way to your test.
  • Touch: Ask a friend to give you a hug. This simple act prompts your brain to release the feel-good neurotransmitter oxytocin, which causes a reduction in the stress hormones cortisol and norepinephrine.
  • Smell: A variety of scents have been found to help calm nerves, including lavender oil (for anxiety and mood), rose oil, and chamomile.
  • Taste: Foods flavored with cinnamon, mint, sage, saffron, or nutmeg have been shown to act as mood boosters.

Change Your Brain, Change Your Grades is written by psychiatrist, neuroscientist, and brain health expert Dr. Daniel Amen and relies on the latest neuroscience and leading-edge brain imaging to show students of all ages how to strengthen the ultimate study buddy—their brain—to be more successful in school. Order your copy here.

If anxiety is keeping you (or your child) from performing to the best of your abilities in school, understand that treating the underlying issue is key to optimizing brain health for greater success in school. At Amen Clinics, we have helped thousands of struggling students improve their grades and learn to enjoy learning. Speak to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or schedule a visit online.


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