Limit unnecessary stressors. Some may think this is a no-brainer, but it’s not. It’s easy to unthinkingly add stress when stressed about and focused on getting ready for a test or other performance. It’s easy to decide to take on something you think will distract you a little from stress and end up distracted a lot and stressed even more. Avoid dumping your stress on supporters. Eat right. Sleep right. Put off taking a new part time job. Put off getting a new puppy. Don’t party. If you can control the agenda on your performance or any potential stressors, try to keep them as separate as possible. Don’t sit around telling yourself horror stories about possible performance/test catastrophes. Don’t hang out with others that will get you thinking about horror stories about possible performance catastrophes.
Monitor self-talk. Few people realize that the way our complex minds work is that the various thinking parts interact like people in an office building. If the president of the company is running around talking about possible catastrophes, it scares the workers. Anxiousness goes up. If the president of the company goes around with the attitude that things will be fine, the workers are reassured.
Relaxation skills are skills that a person can learn and practice that work to counter-act the physical and emotional experience of anxiety. These can include statements you can make to yourself that are reassuring (along the lines of self-talk, above), images you can hold in your mind that are relaxing, memories of feelings of relaxation that you can bring to mind (which causes the feelings to recur as well), activities that can focus your mind on relaxing thoughts, or other “techniques” that can be used to stimulate your system to settle down the adrenalin and other alarm chemistry. It’s good to have one or two of these tools that work for you and that can be utilized in settings ranging from bedtime to intense business meetings or social interactions.
Decatastrophizing failure. Many folks have a tendency to counter-productively engage in trying to whip themselves to excellence with fantasies or self-talk about catastrophe if less than perfect performance happens. If this works for you, fine. But for most people, scaring the hell out of yourself with a bunch of catastrophizing — about the end of the known world if the performance isn’t right or if the test score isn’t high enough — does way more to fuel anxiety and interfere with performance or test-taking than motivate perfection.
If you’re one of these people that turns up the anxiety with vague warnings of doom, rethink the strategy. A good technique for dealing with a penchant for catastrophizing is to ask one’s self what will really, logically happen if the performance is bad or the test is failed — and how that will be effectively handled. Once you decide you really can handle the worst that can happen (e.g., “I’ll look like an idiot but I’ve survived that before”; “I’ll have to wait till the next time to try again and I can practice a lot more in the mean time”; “I’ll have to take the darn course again next semester”; etc.), your anxiety will be less likely to come into play. Take a moment to remind yourself that you’ve survived every turn and twist of life so far and that you’re likely to survive a failed performance.
Hypnosis and hypnosis tapes/CDs. Hypnosis and hypnosis recordings can be wonderfully helpful in dealing with test anxiety and performance anxiety. Because hypnosis can access and suggest ideas to mental mechanisms usually considered unconscious, hypnosis can be very helpful. Hypnosis can help in fostering the mind’s ability to set aside fears and can help by fostering physical performance and memory systems and can increase feelings of confidence, competence and alert relaxation. Hypnosis can in many cases foster that almost magical sense of being “in the zone” when performing or test-taking. There are pros and cons to live hypnosis versus recorded but either can be very effective. Live is generally better with respect to being able to be altered to fit the particular hypnotic subject. Recorded hypnosis cannot be altered as the hypnotic subject reacts but for most people is advantageous because it is much easier to schedule, it is usually easier to be comfortable alone in one’s own surroundings versus a stranger’s office and it is much less expensive.