I recently shared a fascinating conversation with Ned Johnson, co-author of The Self-Driven Child: The Science and Sense of Giving Your Kids More Control Over Their Lives. We were recording the Tests and the Rest episode on Creating a Homeschool Plan During a Crisis (highly recommended) when he started talking about nuts. Actually, he was talking about response to stress, which then led to a discourse on nuts–and not even in the context of allergies. This isn’t as weird as it sounds, though, assuming you are familiar with the groundbreaking work of Sonia Lupien.
Dr. Sonia Lupien, the current Canada Research Chair on Human Stress, is the founder and director of the Centre for Studies on Human Stress. Her research into the effects of stress on the human brain have uncovered some interesting insights, including that of the relativity of stress. In a nutshell–pardon the pun–what I find exciting (world travel) may terrify you, while your idea of a good time (perhaps scuba or sky diving) exists outside my comfort zone. Add the realization that we can, over time, become so accustomed or comfortable with previously stressful situations that they no longer trigger anxiety.
Thus, stress is not absolute or mandatory in any situation. Instead of defining specific scenarios as stressful, then, we should instead consider the recipe for stress, a recipe which prominently features nuts, or rather N.U.T.S.:
NOVELTY — Something new you have not experienced before
UNPREDICTABILITY — Something you had no way of knowing would occur
THREAT TO THE EGO — Your competence is called into question
SENSE OF CONTROL — You feel you have little or no control over the situation
This sounds a lot like test anxiety, doesn’t it? Most self-diagnosed cases of test anxiety typically stem from situations where a test taker doesn’t know what will be on a test or how he or she will perform. Those who fear failure or find the standardized nature of an exam to be a constraint on their sense of control will understandably associate tests with stress.
However, once you understand a recipe, you can modify it to your own tastes. Let’s say, for instance, you’re tired of letting the mere thought of the SAT or ACT trigger depression, anxiety, anger, irritability, restlessness, overwhelm, sleep problems, racing thoughts, constant worry, or any of the miserable multitude of psychological and emotional signs of stress? Start removing ingredients from the recipe for stress:
NOVELTY — Take practice tests until the exam feels very familiar.
UNPREDICTABILITY — Prepare so you know all the content and question types.
THREAT TO THE EGO — Set realistic goals based on your grades, goals, and prep.
SENSE OF CONTROL — With enough practice and coaching, you are in control
Yes, obviously eliminating each ingredient means you have nothing left, but what could be tastier than a N.U.T.S.-free test day?