Have you ever felt anxious about taking the exam? If your answer is yes, you are not alone. Most people have moments when they feel anxious. Anxiety is the most diagnosed disorder in the United States. So, what is anxiety?

The simple answer to this question is anxiety is our normal response to a perceived threat. When we experience or perceive a threat we go into fight, flight, or freeze mode. Once the threat is over, we go back to original state of balance. However, someone who suffers from clinical anxiety will remain in the fight or flight mode. They will continue to worry about the threat long after it has gone away.

Normal vs Clinical Anxiety

In small doses anxiety can be a good thing. A certain level of anxiety can serve as a motivator. Like in the question above, worrying about an important exam will cause us to anxiety. But that worry will make us study for the exam. In this case anxiety can be a good thing because it motivated us to study for the exam. Studying for the exam will most likely result in you passing the exam. So, in the instance a little anxiety is a good thing.

However, large levels of anxiety the amount that is too much for a person to deal with. It becomes problematic. It no longer serves as a motivator. Now anxiety affects us negatively, mentally and physically. It leads to impairment. And the person feels out of control. They do not have the coping mechanisms to deal with not having control of the situation that they are in. They worry about the situation and cannot let go no matter how hard they try. There are instances when it is appropriate to worry. However, for some anxiety can get in the way of their life.

How Anxiety Works: The Cycle of Anxiety

Imagine you are worried about taking a major exam. You experience anxiety and fear about taking the exam. To cope with or escape the anxiety you use a coping mechanism. For example, rather than studying for the exam you avoid it. You avoid the exam by choosing to binge watch Netflix. Binge watching Netflix is a negative coping mechanism, meaning it are not productive. In the short run it feels good to watch Netflix rather than studying. Your brain likes the feeling, so it avoids the exam some more by binging Netflix. The relief does not last. This causes the anxiety to get worse. The desire to avoid the exam becomes stronger because you keep thinking about. So, the anxiety starts to grow. The cycle starts over. The anxiety builds, you try to avoid the exam, the relief does not last, you begin to ruminate or worry. The cycle starts over again.

Three Healthy Coping Strategies for Anxiety.

Healthy coping strategies can help you to deal with anxiety when they arise. These coping strategies can contribute to long-term anxiety relief. They help to manage your anxiety rather than avoid the cause of the anxiety. It is important to practice the coping strategies, as it will be easier and more effective to use the strategies.

1. Deep Breathing: this technique is easy and a good way to manage your emotions. Sit in a comfortable position with one hand on your stomach. Breath in through your nose, for four seconds. Feel your abdomen rise as you inhale. Hold your breath for five seconds. Then exhale slowly, for six second. Practice this daily for three to five minutes each time you practice. This technique is great because you can do it anywhere. It is discrete.

2. Challenging irrational thoughts: irrational thoughts can magnify anxiety. Even though the thoughts are irrational it still has a negative impact on how you feel. If you think “I am worthless” even if there is no evidence to support that thought. You will feel worthless.

  • Examine the thought: List all the evidence that makes the thought true. List all the evidence that makes the thought false. Compare the evidence and decide if the thought is accurate.
  • Socratic Questioning: question the thought.
    • Is the thought based on facts or feelings?
    • What it the likelihood my fear will come true?
    • What will happen if my fear comes true?

3. Mindfulness Mediation: In the beginning try to practice 5 to 10 minutes and you get progressively better increase the time you spend meditating. Mindfulness mediation is paying attention to the present moment (easier said than done) overtime you will get better. Focus on your breathing it will ground you. Do not worry about your mind wandering (it will do that don’t worry about it).

  • Sit in a comfortable position.
    • If in a chair, place the soles of your feet on the ground. If on the floor, cross your legs.
  • Sit up straight.
    • Not too stiff
    • Do not lounge or recline.
  • Let your hands fall naturally. Rest your palms on your thighs.
  • Focus on your breathing. Pay attention to you air as it past through your nose of mouth. Feel your lungs as they fill up with air. Feel your abdomen rise and fall. Pay attention to the sound of your lungs filling with air and exhaling. When your mind wanders go back to focusing on your breathing.
  • When your mind wanders do not worry about it. That will happen often. Notice the thoughts that come into your mind, accept and acknowledge them without judgement. Focus on your breathing.