10 Tips to Overcome Exam Anxiety or Performance Anxiety

I bet most of us can remember ourselves as students walking into an exam room with sweaty palms, a racing heart, and an anxious mind. Maybe you still experience this kind of stress at work when a big project is due, or when you’re expected to give a presentation, or even when you’re dating someone new! It’s only natural for us to want to perform at our best and to be nervous about falling short under pressure. The good news is that performance anxiety is manageable and preventable when you’re willing to incorporate the following tips:

  1. This one is probably a given but, don’t wait until the last minute to prepare. Make sure that you feel comfortable with the material with plenty of time to spare so that you feel as confident as possible.
  2. Get a great night of sleep the night before. Ideally, between seven and nine hours so that your brain is sharp, alert, and ready to go. Fatigue can cause us to forget things more easily, lose our ability to concentrate, make more mistakes, become easily distracted, and it often impairs our decision making abilities.
  3. Take your time before beginning an exam (presentation, speech, etc.). Make sure you fully understand what is being asked of you so that you don’t miss any key details. Take a few moments to ground yourself in the room using your five senses to bring you into the present moment. Take a good look around, smile at someone or pause to really feel your feet on the floor before you start.
  4. Eat a healthy meal beforehand. Foods like salmon, dark chocolate, eggs, berries, nuts, and green tea have been shown to reduce anxiety and improve brain function.
  5. Practice mindful breathing. The “4-7-8 method” is a very calming technique.
  • Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of 4.
  • Hold your breath for a count of 7.
  • Exhale completely through your mouth for a count of 8.
  1. Visualize yourself succeeding for a few moments each day leading up to the event or exam and then also 30 minutes to an hour before you start. Quiet your mind and imagine yourself calmly going through the exam/performance process. Imagine yourself easily and effortlessly overcoming every challenge that is presented with confidence.
  2. Don’t worry about the people around you. We cannot help what other people think about us or what happens in a communal environment, but we can control our response. Stay in your bubble of confidence and keep your eye on the prize.
  1. Bring forward the part of yourself that has succeeded or been confident in other parts of your life. The part that is great on the tennis court or comfortable laughing with friends or family. Connect with that part and bring him, or her, to the event or exam.
  1. Search for “limiting beliefs” and find evidence or proof of the opposite. If you are unsure of how to do this, fill in the blank in the following sentence: “It’s impossible for me to pass or succeed in this because __________________. Do a reality check on whatever you put in the blank space. Is that really true? Have there been times when it wasn’t true? Is this really how I feel? You can also work with a hypnotherapist to uncover unhelpful limiting beliefs if needed. 
  1. Choose an outfit that makes you feel confident. When we look good, we tend to feel good because of the sense of empowerment that taking care of ourselves provides. 

The above tips can help with so many circumstances that elicit anxiety. Remember that you are always in the driver’s seat!