“I studied so hard and I couldn’t remember the answers to the questions.” “My mind went blank before the test.” “ When I was standing in front of the class to present, I froze.” “My heartbeat sped up and my thoughts were clouded.” These are comments often made by students under pressure.
It is normal to feel nervous for your test, a presentation or a theater performance. In fact, anxiety can be helpful in making you study for that test or motivate you to practice for that class presentation. The Yerkes-Dodson law supports this by showing that a moderate level of stress can be motivational and performance-enhancing. However, too little or too much stress can have a negative impact on a student’s performance (Terada, 2019). High anxiety levels can affect a student’s ability to concentrate and retrieve information from their memory.
Anxiety is a common reaction to an unfamiliar and stressful situation. It is there to protect you or motivate you. Sometimes though, the anxious mind interprets something as dangerous when in fact it is not. In this scenario, your anxious body tries to protect you by increasing your heartbeat, you begin to sweat, your breathing rate increases and your thoughts become more focused on the perceived danger (Tompkins & Martinez, 2002). When this state of alert continues, it can lead to chronic, harmful anxiety. The good news is that there are tools that students can learn to use that will help calm their anxious minds and bodies. Parents can also play a role in helping their child manage their performance anxiety.
Here are a few strategies that parents can use. If, however, you notice that your child’s anxiety persists and intensifies, further affecting them in their daily lives, then reach out to their Guidance Counsellor.
- Talk with them about their worries and listen to them without judgement. Talking with your child about their anxiety gives them the message that you are there to support them and that they can come to you when needed.
- Reinforce healthy habits of good nutrition, regular exercise and sufficient sleep. These habits can greatly benefit your child’s physical and mental well-being.
- Encourage your child to prepare for tests over the long term. It is important for students to develop the study habits and skills that will negate the need for cramming the night before. They will feel more confident and this will help defuse a lot of their anxiety (Hoffses, 2018).
- Have them pay attention to their thinking. Is their thinking helpful or unhelpful? Anxious teens usually engage in unhelpful self-talk which contributes to their anxiety. If they are having thoughts such as, ‘I’ll never pass this test,” or “I cannot speak in front of a class,” encourage them to have more helpful and realistic thoughts such as, “I’ve studied hard and I know the material so I will try my best,” or “I’ve practiced my presentation in front of others and know what to say, so I can do this”.
- Engage in relaxation practices. Relaxation activities such as breathing techniques, guided imagery and meditation can help your child relax and improve focus. There are many free apps available that offer a variety of practices such as Mindshift, Smiling Mind, Breathe2Relax, and Calm.
- Focus on the positive. Most often students who are struggling with anxiety put enough pressure on themselves and do not need additional pressure. Instead of reminding them about the consequences of getting a poor grade, encourage them to do their best. Make an effort to notice what your child does well and praise them for it.
Hoffses, K. (Ed.). (2018, July). Test Anxiety (for Teens) – Nemours Kidshealth. Retrieved from https://kidshealth.org/en/teens/test-anxiety.html#:~:text=People with test anxiety can,the feeling of anxiety becomes.
Terada, Y. (2019, March 29). Helping Students Beat Test Anxiety. Retrieved October 2, 2021, from https://www.edutopia.org/article/helping-students-beat-test-anxiety
Tompkins, M. A., & Martinez, K. A. (2010). My anxious mind: A teens guide to managing anxiety and panic. Washington, DC: Magination Press.