I distinctly remember the night before my first day of college. It would have been an extremely memorable night no matter what, but the experience of my first panic attack made it particularly memorable. What was this new experience going to be? Was I going to be successful? Were people going to like me? Was everyone I loved going to die in a fire while I was away? My thoughts began to spiral quickly and before I knew it I was having a full on panic attack. Stress and anxiety will always be potential problems as new experiences, important events, and difficult deadlines occur, but here are some tips for college bound students (and everyone else) who may deal with the anxiety of a stressful situation.
1. Acknowledge Your Anxious Feelings
Anxiety is nothing to be ashamed of nor is it something that should be discounted. If a student feels anxiety, it is best to acknowledge that feeling so that it can be addressed properly. If possible, identify what specifically is causing the feeling of anxiety. Is it the specific fear of not being capable of accomplishing some task? Is it a feeling of there being too little time to accomplish a task or prepare for an event? Is it a completely unfounded worry about something you can’t control (i.e. your family dying in a fire)? All of the valid concerns can be approached with practical steps, and all of the ridiculous concerns are beyond your control, so why worry about them? Remember, fear is essentially a projection of a negative outcome into an unknown (and unknowable) future! Think of something that you can work on right NOW that can help to address the particular source of your anxiety. If you are worried about not having enough time, work out a schedule that will give you a sense for what it will require to accomplish something then do the first step. This will show you that you are capable of doing the task. If the anxiety is ridiculous, feel it, then try to laugh! It sounds silly but laughing may be just the thing to free you from the fear of this ridiculous thought. Don’t live in the imaginary future, focus on what can be done right now!
2. Keep a regular sleep cycle
The first thing that tends to be sacrificed as stress level and work load increase is sleep (that and calls to grandparents, but if they are like mine they will just call you more to make up for it), but as an important event like a test, a presentation, or the first day of classes at a new school approaches, keeping a consistent sleep schedule should be a priority. Research has shown that even a one hour reductions in sleep can impair memory and destroy an immune system! Try to keep as consistent a sleep schedule as possible and prioritize sleep as you do any other important task. If the you are preparing for a specific event like a test, or a presentation, don’t do anything you don’t usually do on the morning of the event! Don’t all of the sudden decide to drink coffee before your big presentation, in fact, if anxiety is in any way an issue for you, caffeine may cause you to be jittery and unfocused.
3. Visualize Success
In general, approaching stressful events with a positive attitude has a tremendous effect on real outcomes. Numerous studies have demonstrated that positive visualization is associated with success in various pursuits. Take a few minutes before you go to bed to visualize yourself receiving the score that you desire on the test, effectively communicating the points of your presentation, or successfully introducing yourself to a room full of new students. This can go a long way to convincing yourself that you are capable of success in whatever context is the source of your stress. Avoid the voice in your head that says, “You are not good at…”. You are good at whatever it is! If you are not now good at something, you will become good at it! Constant self-flagellation will create a belief that you are bad at things. This is not the case! You are good and successful, so start believing it!
There is no panacea (SAT word for cure-all) for stress, but acknowledging your feelings, keeping yourself well rested, and visualizing success are sure fire ways to help reduce anxiety and stress. Remember that whether you are stressed about the SAT, your first day of college, or just the daily stresses of life, stress and anxiety are all still just chemical reactions in your brain, and you have some control on what your brain does, so use that control to make your life a life that minimizes fear of a future that does not exist.
David Greenslade is a Veritas Prep SAT instructor based in New York. His passion for education began while tutoring students in underrepresented areas during his time at the University of North Carolina. After receiving a degree in Biology, he studied language in China and then moved to New York where he teaches SAT prep and participates in improv comedy. Read more of his articles here, including How I Scored in the 99th Percentile and How to Effectively Study for the SAT.