Controlling Anxiety

Dear Students,

I want to share the journal of one of my students taking the freshman seminar I am teaching. Many of you are going through the same experiences and his thoughts could help you a lot. His journal truly describes the problem and its solution. Read the journal below carefully and before you take your next exams, try to see the movie Tuesdays with Morrie or read the book by the same title. You have nothing to lose but YOU WILL GAIN A LOT.

After all, isn't it true that all people strive for happiness and true success? Your teacher wants to see you happy and truly successful.

Your teacher

Write about a recent time when you experienced overwhelming anxiety, anger, resentment, sadness, depression, or fear.

I experienced a situation in which I felt a great degree of anxiety and overwhelming fear just recently. Last Friday I had my Chemistry 2A midterm. In the days prior to my test, I was studying a lot, but was still caving to the fear that I would not do well, or that I was not studying as much or as well as I could have been. I became overwhelmed with all of the new information that I was expected to know and began to worry that there was no way I could get all of it into my head before the test.

I have always been a good student and have my priorities in order, but a lot of the big tests here in college are much more intimidating than anything I had taken in high school. I was having trouble sleeping throughout the week because I was so afraid and so nervous for the upcoming day.

However, after I had spent a good deal of time staring at a page of equations, not taking anything in, I realized that I was not handling the situation correctly. By freaking out and studying like a madman for the test, I was not doing my best to prepare for my test - I was doing just the opposite. I had gotten my nerves all in a knot, and it was distracting me from what I needed to get done for my class.

I decided in my heart that the results of this test were not going to dictate my course in life, and doing sub-par was not going to kill me. With this in mind, I was able to relax and take information in at a much more comfortable pace, and it really benefitted me. I do not know what I scored on my test yet, but I know I will be o.k. with whatever the results are. I know that I will move on with my life, and do better on the next test.

Identify three or more strategies that you could use in the future when you experience this (or these) emotion(s).

The first strategy I used was to keep everything in perspective. I had my test after last Friday's seminar, in which we watched Tuesdays with Morrie. The part of this movie that really spoke to me and helped calm me down before the test was the line in which Morrie and Mitch are moving amongst all of the college students studying for finals. Morrie tells them to put down their books, and enjoy the beautiful day outside, with the knowledge that these tests would not make or break their lives. Thinking in this manner allowed me to reach a state of inner calm that not only put me at ease with my situation, but helped me to study in a more effective manner.

The second strategy I used to put my anxiety to rest was getting more sleep. Before I decided that I was not preparing myself properly for this exam, I was having horrible nightmares and would wake up several times throughout the night. After I gained peace of mind, I was able to rest and recharge my batteries. I had been going to bed and waking up with only a few hours of sleep in between, and then continued on with my day exhausted and waiting until I could crawl back to bed the next night. Being well rested allowed me to focus more intently on the task at hand, and gain more benefit from the time I was spending studying.

The final strategy I used was to humble myself, and keep in mind that I am not going to do the best compared to everyone else anymore. I know that I have a very arrogant and proud personality, and can be very competitive at a wide range of things. By acknowledging that there are people that will do better than me, I learned that instead of trying to cram everything into my head as if I were a prodigy, it was better to read through the text at my own rate, so that I could better understand what I was reading. In order to do the best I can, I have to put everyone else out of my mind, and do what is right for me. This includes the way that I study for tests, as everyone learns at their own rate.

With these techniques in mind, I will always be more prepared than someone who spent the whole night before the test studying that last of information. I know that there will always be a part of me that gets nervous before a test, but with this mindset I will be much more tranquil and therefore perform much more effectively than I would ever be able to otherwise.