Taking a career-critical exam is daunting. Regardless of how well you have prepared, sitting down to take a comprehensive exam is likely to stress you out. Test anxiety is real, and most of us experience some degree of performance anxiety.
If you’re sitting down to take the IBCLC exam, read on for my top recommendations for exam-takers facing test anxiety.
Believe that fear and anxiety is optional
Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” How true! Being fearful of the exam only kicks your sympathetic nervous system into high gear. It does not improve your ability to retain information or perform better on the exam — in some cases, it may cause you to perform worse.
Tell yourself a different story
I spoke with Montreal’s top anxiety and depression psychotherapist, Sandra Reich, about anxiety. (Listen here and here.) Sandra warned about the potential detriment of a negative story in your head. Henry Ford made this same point years ago: “Whether you think you can, or think you can’t — you right.”
In other words, if the story floating around in your head is “I might fail,” then indeed, you might. Sandra Reich and Henry Ford are saying the same thing: Negative self-talk can be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Don’t procrastinate; get a study schedule and stick to it
Procrastinating adds stress. And, if you’re fearful about the stuff you don’t know, use this great tip I learned from Sandra: “Avoidance is the friend of anxiety. Move towards your fears.”
Take care of yourself
Binging on high-sugar comfort foods or burning the midnight oil to study is counterproductive. Instead, burn off your test anxiety with some vigorous exercise. Even a brisk walk helps.
Intentional self-care is important, and we need to prioritize ourselves during our everyday lives. In the days leading up to the exam, get plenty of rest, exercise, and do things that make you feel more relaxed.
Use breathing exercises, visualization, positive affirmations, or hypnosis
No, these techniques don’t work the first time you use them. But after a few weeks, when you slide into their lull, you’ll never want to go without these aids again. Here are a few I’ve used.
Visualization techniques. I subscribe to the EnVision app. I have no affiliation with these folks, but I do use the app nearly every day.
Breathing techniques. I have the Universal Breathing Pranayana Lite app on my phone to do breathing exercises even for as little as one minute. I’ve used the Flowly app nearly every day for more than a year, and it has done wonders for me. (Again no affiliation, I just love the app.)
Positive affirmations to replace negative self-talk. I love Ethan Kross’s book: Chatter: The Voice In our head, why it matters, and how to harness it. I also love Louise Hay’s positive affirmations for anxiety and stress. I’ve listened to it hundreds of times.
There’s no need to fear the IBCLC exam. Your fear is just a thought, and a thought can be changed.
What strategies do you use to relax when faced with test anxiety? Tell me in the comments below! And please share with a friend who might have the same anxieties!