How Do I Get Over My Performance Anxiety?
Have you ever feared speaking or performing in front of a group of people? Maybe you were feeling stressed just thinking about an upcoming presentation, performing in a concert, or taking an upcoming test. Some people perform or present without hesitation while others feel anything from a sense of nervousness to dread or fear. For many of us, just the thought of being watched by others is intimidating. But, for those who suffer from performance anxiety, getting up in front of others is a very stressful experience. Extreme nervousness experienced before or during participation in an activity taking place in front of an audience is called performance anxiety. This condition is more common than you may think and there are ways to help alleviate the symptoms.
What is Test Anxiety?
According to Kathryn Hoffses, PhD in the article “Test Anxiety” posted in TeensHealth, test anxiety is a type of performance anxiety. It stems from either a self-imposed idea of how an individual believes they need to perform or their reactions to pressures placed upon them by others. Either way, the symptoms are very real and can get in the way of your ability to prepare and demonstrate what you have learned. Test anxiety is quite common and literally anyone can experience it.
According to Healthline.com, some symptoms of test anxiety include:
- Racing pulse and rapid breathing
- Dry mouth and tight throat
- Trembling hands, knees, lips, and voice
- Sweaty and cold hands
- Nausea and an uneasy feeling in your stomach
- Vision changes
Studying Efficiently Can Reduce Testing Anxiety
The more familiar you are with the information you are learning, the more prepared you will feel when test day comes. It is important to consistently review previously learned information as a unit progresses so you can remember all information presented over time. Students can make a regular practice of rolling new information into a study routine.
Below are some general guidelines you can follow:
Put the time into studying by studying over time.
Break information down into logical parts.
Consider focusing on one topic per study session.
If something isn’t working, try something new.
Get some help from a tutor.
Join a study group.
Find a fresh study spot.
Review, review, review- It is very important to study in bursts so your mind has time to process and store information.
Review class information daily so that you are familiar and confident in your knowledge of topics prior to test day.
Take breaks and remember to sleep to let the information sink in.
Visualize what happens as you pour liquid into a funnel. What happens if you pour more at one time than the funnel can hold? The liquid flows over the side of the funnel and does not get stored with the rest of the liquid that drains into the container.
Most people can concentrate well for about 45 minutes, according to TeensHealth. It is a good idea to take a 15-minute break for every 45 minutes of study.
Study topics that connect to each other in one session.
Test Prep Includes Taking Care of YOU!
Taking time to prepare for an exam in a purposeful and healthy way includes taking care of your body. The mind and body work together and it is important to pay attention to both! For example, it is critical to develop a routine of adequate sleep and to follow a healthy diet.
A full night’s rest is important for brain function.
Teenagers need 8 to 10 hours sleep per night. Without adequate rest, you will feel less energetic, less alert and will find it difficult to recall information.
Check out this article from Psychology Today about how sleep enhances studying.
Eat a nutritious meal the morning of the test!
Choose foods that are slower to digest and will keep you feeling full.
Avoid high sugar content foods as they will digest quickly and leave you feeling hungry.
Read Instructions Carefully
When feeling nervous, it is easy to gloss over directions instead of reading carefully. Knowledge is power, and a lot of power is found in understanding instructions when taking a test! The National Education Association at NEA.org, has created a document full of suggestions for preparation and successful completion of tests. Available as a PDF, “Test-Time” Strategies for Students, Parents, and Teachers is worth the read!
This resource suggests that during tests students should keep the following tips in mind:
- Read and pay careful attention to all directions.
- Read each passage and accompanying questions.
- Read every possible answer- the best one could be the last.
- Read and respond to items one at a time rather than thinking about the whole test.
- Reread, when necessary, the parts of a passage needed for selecting the correct answer.
- Don’t expect to find a pattern in the positions of the correct answers.
- Don’t make uneducated guesses. Try to get the correct answer by reasoning and eliminating wrong answers.
- Decide exactly what the question is asking; one response is clearly best
- Don’t spend too much time on any one question.
- Skip difficult questions until all other questions have been answered. On scrap paper, keep a record of the unanswered items to return to, if time permits.
- Make sure to record the answer in the correct place on the answer sheet.
- Only change an answer if you are sure the first one you picked was wrong. Be sure to completely erase changed answers.
- Work as rapidly as possible with accuracy.
- After completion of the test, use any remaining time to check your answers.
- Keep a good attitude. Think positively!
Remember, in many of life’s situations, different strategies work for different people. Study strategies are not one-size-fits-all. The only way to know what will work best is to try a variety of strategies and continue those that are effective for YOU. Create your own process or procedure to keep yourself on track. TeensHealth also shares a list with tips on how to study effectively. It is a good idea to check out a variety of sources and pinpoint the strategies that are a best fit for you.
Use your imagination! Create a mental image of yourself doing well on your test. Remember to only allow positive imagery to be part of your visual. If you can imagine yourself being successful and keep a positive outlook, you will likely begin to believe in your ability to do well. Even something as simple as a smile can be a tool to use for keeping thoughts positive.
A great tip is shared by Meg Seli, author of Changepower! 37 Secrets to Habit Change Success, in her Psychology Today blog post, “The 9 Superpowers of Your Smile.” Meg’s post discusses the many ways we benefit from the act of smiling, including how it elevates your mood and creates a sense of well-being, even if it is a forced smile.
"I’m Always Prepared & Still Experience Anxiety"
Despite their best efforts to eliminate test anxiety, some people struggle to shake it completely. If you know that anxiety is going to interfere with your success, be honest with your teacher. Explaining your situation well ahead of time will allow teachers time to share information or make suggestions that will be helpful for you. If need be, a doctor can recommend a 504 plan which will help with the process of putting necessary supports in place. It is important to work with the school to determine what accommodations will best support your needs.
Persistent anxiety can be helped through sessions with a counselor or other mental health professional. These specialists can work with you to find the best strategies for you to use to manage your anxiety.
Sometimes, when students continue to experience performance anxiety and recommended solutions don’t seem to help, they look for alternatives to a traditional high school setting.
If you continue to experience performance anxiety and recommended solutions don’t seem to help, there are alternatives to traditional high school. One of those options is to attend school in the virtual setting. While the setting itself is not a cure for anxiety, it can help create an environment for success in treatment while continuing to receive a high quality education. Attending classes online may eliminate some of the stress a student is experiencing in a brick and mortar environment. At the same time, the virtual setting can provide more flexibility for scheduling of therapy sessions and other appointments.
If you suffer from performance anxiety, remember you are not alone. Many people experience this type of anxiety at some level and need to develop strategies to manage it. Many resources are available to help you learn effective strategies. When the anxiety persists, trained professionals can help you develop healthy coping strategies and work toward a positive outlook in regards to test-taking.
Interested in learning more about PA Virtual Charter School? You can request more information here.
About the Author: Bernadette Mathis is a PA Virtual Guidance Counselor for students in grades 7-8.