It always seems like anxiety strikes us at the worst possible moments. That feeling of pure dread looms overhead, as you fall deeper into a dark abyss of hopelessness. Usually, the feeling is followed with chest pain, headaches, dizziness, clammy palms, perspiration, stomach pain, and nausea.
Let me let you in on a little secret though: anxiety can be a good thing. You read that right. If channeled correctly, anxiety can be a powerful tool that drastically improves your performance (see graph below).
Allow me to illustrate this concept using three different high school students preparing throughout the week for an upcoming test. Student #1 could care less about the test. He or she seldom asks questions in class. Student #1 forgets to do his or her homework. Preparation for the test means showing up to class that day and winging it. This student exhibited little to no anxiety regarding the test. Therefore, student #1 will likely perform poorly. The bottom-left corner of the graph demonstrates this relationship.
Student #2 is the overachiever type. Student #2 wants a perfect score on every assignment, quiz, and test. He or she starts studying for the exam two weeks ahead of time. Student #2 makes flash cards, rereads class notes, and skims through the textbook over and over again. As a result, student #2 panics the night before the test. He or she has trouble sleeping, forgetting to eat, and trouble focusing. When the test finally arrives on student #2’s desk the next day, severe feelings of anxiety settle in, resulting in student #2 freezing and blanking out on all of the information he or she so rigorously reviewed. Being overly anxious worked against student #2, letting the anxiety take over. The bottom-right corner of graph shows this.
Finally, student #3 wants to do well on this test. However, student #3 understands that too little or too much studying could mean a poor grade. He or she takes the appropriate steps to be successful and keeping their anxiety in check. Student #3 utilizes the energy that the anxiety is feeding into for productive preparation. He or she reviews information little-by-little throughout the week. Student #3 asks questions in class and talks to fellow students about the material. The night before the test, student #3 ensures that he or she gets an adequate amount of sleep. The morning of the test he or she eats a healthy breakfast. At the time of the test, student #3 feels confident about their ability to pass the test successfully. Student #3 is best exemplified by the middle of the curve in the above graph.
What was so different about student #3 that ensured his or her success? This is where self-care plays a tremendous part. Student #3 was able to keep in mind the idea of balance. They did not study too much or too little. They kept their anxiety in check and funneled the right amount of energy into the preparation. The anxiety acted as a motivating factor rather than an inhibitor. Student #3 also utilized their basic self-care such as sleep hygiene, proper diet, etc. Instead of neglecting these areas in place of the upcoming test, this helped to maintain balance throughout his or her overall well-being.
Make anxiety your friend, not your foe.
-The Caring Counselor