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Coping with Anxiety

Are you concerned about your academic success?

Are you already beginning to worry about the what-if’s?

Are you even beginning to think that maybe you’ve made a mistake by coming back to school?

If your answer is yes to any of these questions, STOP and think about how disruptive and self-defeating these kinds of thoughts can be.

I suggest that you continue reading this section on Disputing Your Anxiety-Arousing Thoughts, then relax, laugh a little and acknowledge that you are not the only person feeling lost or afraid. Help is available through the Returning Adults to Education Program.

I also hope that you know that these thoughts are self-induced and, therefore, can also be self-dismissed. It may take a little effort, but it can be done. If you find yourself in this situation and want to talk with someone or need some form of assistance, please do not hesitate to call the Returning Adults to Education Office.

Disputing Your Anxiety-Arousing Thoughts

  • We don’t need to be approved by everyone. We can live and survive without everyone’s approval.

  • Having others think you’re stupid is not the same as being stupid. We don’t have to believe everything that’s said about us.

  • People have worth, dignity, and value because they “are”— people aren’t worthless because they don’t succeed at something.

  • No one can be competent, adequate, and achieving in all possible respects.

  • It is not terrible and awful when things don’t go the way we’d like.

  • Worrying about taking tests, performance, how others are doing. Etc. will not improve the situation.

  • Besides physical pain, what is there really to be afraid of?

  • Worrying and dreading test-taking situations grossly exaggerates the importance of the role this one test plays in our entire lives.

Generally speaking, the typical worrying self-statements take the student’s mind off the task at hand, namely the test. Thus, the more someone thinks to themselves “I cant remember a thing,” the less s/he’ll remember. In this way, the anxiety arousing statements become self-fulfilling prophesies. Thus, the worry about performance and bodily reactions statements can best be challenged by demonstrating how they lead to poor test results and anxiety.

Confronting Stress

A number of statements can be used to help confront the stress involved in taking exams. These are concerned with keeping the person task oriented so s/he can concentrate on the exam and not on the negative thoughts and self-statements.

For example:

  • What is it I have to do? No negative statements.

  • Don’t worry. Worry won’t help anything.

  • Focus on the task; exactly what does this question ask for.

  • Don’t look for tricks, just what does it say.

  • What’s the basic question… the main point.

  • That’s a dumb question.   OK, so it’s dumb. What’s the main point, anyway.

  • I can’t figure this out. Don’t panic. OK, so I’ll get one wrong. Just skip it and go on to the next one.

  • I wonder how many I need to get a B on?...Better forget about that now and just take the test.

A number of statements are especially useful for coping with feelings (physiological and mental) of anxiety and panic.

  • I’m starting to get anxious so I’d better slow down a little...there’s plenty of time.

  • I’m starting to lose control...better take a deep breath...relax...let it out slowly… that’s better.

  • I keep making myself anxious. Have to keep my focus on the test.

In order to control feelings of anxiety, it is especially important to use imagery and breathing techniques. They involve slow deep breathing, repeating the words “calm” and “relax” to yourself, taking a moment out to imagine your own pleasant scene, etc.

It is also important to reinforce yourself when you successfully cope with anxiety. The following statements are examples:
  • It worked

  • I can control how I feel.

  • I’m in complete control.

  • Its getting better each time I try.

  • I did it.

  • I’m really getting good at this.

A Sample Anxiety Hierarchy

  • The teacher hands out an exam for which you feel poorly prepared.

  • The teacher hands out an exam for which you felt well prepared.

  • The teacher hands out a small quiz without previously announcing it.

  • The teacher hands out a small quiz for which you are well prepared.

  • Walking into the classroom for an examination.

  • Waking up in the morning of the day during which you will have an exam.

  • Studying the night before and exam; not feeling too confident about it.

  • Studying the night before and exam; feeling confident.

  • Studying a few days before an exam.

  • Receiving a hand-out at the first meeting of a class and noting the dates of the examinations

  • Buying the books for a class in the bookstore.

As any of the above issues arise, and you feel that you need to talk it through with someone, please do not hesitate to make an appointment with one of the PVCC’s counselors.

Reprinted from Cognitive Modification of Test Anxiety, P. Gallucci, College of St. Catherine