Anxiety is defined as a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease about something with an uncertain outcome. Some level of anxiety can be normal in stressful situations, however, if it becomes excessive or overwhelming for a prolonged period (6+months), then it may be best to seek support from a GP or a mental health professional.
When we are stressed, certain areas of our brain (the amygdala and hypothalamus) release stress hormones (e.g. cortisol and adrenaline) which play a role and affect learning and memory. Therefore, in a test situation, we can sometimes experience a ‘brain fog’ (cognitive fog) or go ‘blank’ unable to remember any information studied the day before. This is because the activation of the stress responses (fight/flight) in the brain also results in turning off the part which helps you think.
Students experiencing academic anxiety feel apprehensive over academic tasks. There are three specific forms – subject specific, test or institutional related anxiety. Their fear may be based on unrealistically high expectations to achieve, thereby creating undue stress and pressure. This may result in feelings of panic, hypertension, hyperventilation and disruption to attention and focus.
Test anxiety can be a combination of physical symptoms (headache, nausea, excessive sweating, rapid heart rate, difficulty breathing, panic attacks) or emotional thoughts (feelings of stress, fear, helplessness, feeling like a failure, or ruminating about past failed performance) and can be caused by such factors as:
● Fear of failure
● Lack of preparation
● Poor test history
● High pressure
● Well before the exam
● Immediately before the exam, and
● During the exam
Perfectionism or wanting to appear to be perfect can work to increase our chances of success at times. However, it is not the same as ‘striving to do your best’ or related to ‘healthy achievement and growth’. According to Dr Brené Brown , “perfectionism is self-destructive, addictive and unattainable” (2019).
It sets us up to feel shame, judgement and blame and is associated with faulty logic or the perfectionist fallacy i.e. that there is a ‘perfect solution’ and we should look for it before taking any action. As a result, such thoughts or obsession with ‘perfection’ can often be paralysing and stop us from starting, progressing to the next level or stop us from completing any tasks.
Perfectionist tendencies can develop from fear of failure or disapproval from others (family and friends), insecurity or due to mental health issues such as Obsessive Compulsive Disorders (OCD), although some, not all people with OCD may develop perfectionism. Perfectionism is also often linked to procrastination.
● Make a cost-benefit analysis
● Become aware of your tendencies
● Focus on the positive
● Alter your self-talk
● Take baby steps
● Enjoy the process
● Learn to handle criticism