All that anxiety caused by your upcoming test isn’t just an inconvenience. Stress can mess with your grades and overall health. You'll be relieved to learn there are scientifically-backed ways to reduce test anxiety.
Your body under stress produces the hormone cortisol, which interferes with your ability to learn and remember, in addition to giving you a host of other health problems, like elevated blood pressure and weight gain. Fight back with these five stress-busting tips for a brain boost on exam day.
1. Get a good night’s sleep.
Good sleep hygiene has been linked to good grades in studies showing that students who go to bed earlier have higher GPAs on average. Resting allows your brain to absorb all the knowledge you’ve studied, as well as boosting your awareness and cognitive function. A good sleep routine before your test will help you retain and recall the information you need.
2. Eat healthily.
It’s common for students to turn to comfort food — think mac n’ cheese, pizza, ice cream — when feeling anxious about an upcoming deadline. The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine explains that high-fat foods, like meaty or cheesy dishes, can make people feel more lethargic, which is the last thing you need when you’re studying. Instead, they recommend going for high-fiber foods since these prevent later binges by filling you up. Fruits and vegetables are also great because they boost your immune system.
Eating lean proteins, like turkey, beans, chickpeas, lentils, or peas, helps curb hunger. Studying on a full stomach will help you focus longer.
3. Exercise regularly.
Exercise produces endorphins, one of the brain’s feel-good chemicals and a natural stress-buster. Regular exercise has been shown to reduce anxiety, lower blood pressure, and improve sleep. Try yoga before a test, which has been shown to improve memory retention.
Even if you’re not in the habit of exercising every day, you can benefit from exercising the day of your test: take a walk, or do some jumping jacks or push ups in your room before the test.
4. Listen to relaxing music.
Listening to relaxing music can have a powerful effect on your body by lowering blood pressure, slowing your heart rate, and even decreasing your cortisol levels. Studies have shown music to reduce anxiety, relieve depression, and even alleviate chronic pain. Try listening to peaceful classical or New Age music, or any of your favorite music that lifts your mood.
For a list of study music from Noodle staff, check out 7 Tunes for When You Hit The Books.
5. Remember to breathe.
The deep breathing exercises used in yoga and meditation can reduce stress by actually reversing the physiological symptoms of anxiety and lowering your cortisol levels. You don’t have to know anything about meditation or be experienced in yoga to reap the benefits. Just take deep, slow breaths, and focus on a word like “relax.” You can do this anywhere, anytime, even while you’re taking the test.
Use these five pre-test stress busters to lower your anxiety and promote better brain function. They’ll help you to not only ace your test, but be healthier and happier overall.
Gregoire, C. (2012, November 30). Final Exam Stress: 10 Ways To Beat End-Of-Semester Anxiety. Retrieved October 15, 2014, from Huffington Post
Eight Habits that Improve Cognitive Function. (n.d.). Retrieved October 15, 2014, from Psychology Today
Benefits of Eating Breakfast for Students. (n.d.). Retrieved October 15, 2014, from SF Gate
Exercising to Relax. (2011, February 1). Retrieved October 15, 2014, from Harvard Health Publication
The Power of Music To Reduce Stress. (n.d.). Retrieved October 15, 2014, from Psych Central
The Effects of Sedative and Stimulative Music on Stress Reduction Depend on Music Preference. Retrieved October 15, 2014, from The Arts in Psychotherapy