Perhaps you are approaching your senior year in high school, narrowing down your choice of schools, filling out applications and signing up for the SAT test. Most likely you are planning to take it more than once. Did your stomach just do a flip-flop thinking about the test? Are you worried about it because so much rides on how well you do?
Unfortunately, the presence of anxiety literally does make us dumber! Anxiety is fear about a future event. When you are in a state of fear there is a carefully and automatically orchestrated series of events that occur in the body. Long ago it was needed to ensure a human’s survival. Today it can be more of a hindrance for most of us because it is rare that our life is actually in danger. Unfortunately, our brain doesn’t know the difference between an actual threat (a tiger chasing us) and a perceived threat (not doing well on the SAT test).
In layman’s terms, here is what happens when we are in a state of fear. The fear causes the amygdala in your brain to send out the message that it is fight or flight time! Cortisol, a stress hormone, gets released in your body, digestion is disrupted, and your heart rate increases to deliver more blood to the muscles in preparation for fight or flight. Finally, and most importantly, the functioning of the prefrontal cortex is disrupted. The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain responsible for, among other things, decision-making and problem-solving. It is vital to test taking yet superfluous during flight or flight. Your subconscious mind which is in charge of this intricate system of survival does not know whether it is an actual or perceived threat. It just knows you fear and it responds accordingly. Overcoming anxiety is an important factor for doing well on the test.
If the usual suggestions for dealing with anxiety aren’t relieving it know that you are not alone. Often these suggestions cannot overcome the source of the problem because the source lies within the subconscious mind.
- If you have had any previous negative experiences in your past with respect to “performing”, perhaps during a recital, sports event, or public speaking, it is probably affecting you today. Your subconscious mind “remembers” events that caused you concern. From that moment forward it has been constantly scanning the environment looking for the same “clues” in order to protect you from experiencing this pain again. When it finds one you know it because you experience it as “worry”.
- These experiences also cause us to have limiting beliefs such as: “I’m not a good test taker” or “I just know I’m not going to do well”. Chances are theses beliefs are residing in your subconscious mind and no amount of positive affirmations or talking yourself out of them is going to help. Unlike our conscious mind, the subconscious mind cannot be talked “to”.
Can the subconscious mind be reached? Fortunately in the last 20 years there are new stress reduction techniques that can be highly effective with many issues including test anxiety. They are easily learned, have the ability to access the subconscious mind, and have been scientifically proven to be effective. Once learned the individual has a stress reduction tool he or she can use to self manage stress wherever it may appear in life.
One of these, EFT, Emotional Freedom Technique, founded by a Stanford engineer, Gary Craig, utilizes meridians, the energy pathways within our bodies. You may know them if you have ever had acupuncture. Another technique, Psych-K, allows us to test for and change sabotaging beliefs residing in our subconscious mind to beliefs in support of our goals.
If test anxiety remains an issue for you, I encourage you to explore and learn about these techniques. Wouldn’t it feel great to go into the test feeling calm and confident? Wouldn’t it be fabulous if you knew you were going to do well? As Henry Ford said, “If you think you can do a thing or you think you can’t do a thing, you’re right.”
by Renee Meyers, CPC, EFT Int-1