Tests are stressful, right? Complicated high-stakes tests can certainly be stressful, in the way that any influential moments in our lives demanding peak performance can be stressful. Unfortunately, anxiety impedes performance, which means many people freak out at exactly the moment they should remain calm and in control.
What should you do when test anxiety strikes? First, consider objectively how ready you are for the task at hand. Find comfort in the fact that you prepared for the test you are taking. If you didn’t prepare, on the other hand, you have every reason to be nervous!
Next, consider your options for stress relief. Some find solace in writing out their anxieties or adopting a power pose. Just knowing a variety of sophisticated ways to combat anxiety can alleviate it, but don’t overlook one of the most basic strategies: breathing.
How is breathing linked to stress? Anxiety, according to Healthline, is your body’s natural fear response. When the urge to either fight or run kicks in, we can suffer, among other symptoms, shortness of breath, rapid breathing, or even breathlessness. Hyperventilation is no way to take a test.
Combat anxiety by controlling your breathing. Start with natural breathing, also known as diaphragmatic or belly breathing. Natural breathing is a great way to breathe all the time, but deep breathing done properly does wonders in moments of stress. A deep breath calms the mind and relaxes the body, suppressing anxiety and reducing a racing heart rate.
In moments of panic–such as a really tough test–employ the following natural breathing technique described by University of Michigan Medicine:
- Sit in a comfortable position.
- Put one hand on your belly just below your ribs and the other hand on your chest.
- Take a deep breath in through your nose, and let your belly push your hand out. Your chest should not move.
- Breathe out through pursed lips as if you were whistling. Feel the hand on your belly go in, and use it to push all the air out.
- Do this breathing 3 to 10 times. Take your time with each breath.
This whole process of breathing gently into the lower lungs can take 5-20 seconds, which any test taker can afford. Ideally, the end result will be greater physical relaxation combined with an enhanced sense of calm and control.
Test takers looking for more advanced breathing strategies will love techniques like Calming Breath, 4-7-8 breathing and roll breathing. These techniques, however, don’t always lend themselves to a testing environment. Fortunately, natural breathing works anywhere and anytime. The next time stress rears its ugly head in your life, fight back by breathing right.