Is there anything in school that causes more stress than test taking? I remember waking up the morning of a test, and dreading going to school. It wasn’t that I was bad at taking tests; in fact I felt like I was quite good at test taking, but each day that I had a test, I could feel myself cowering and worrying about my performance. Obviously if I had studied thoroughly for a test, my stress wasn’t as bad, but the stress was always there.
There was a time in college when I remember having finals coming up the following week. I had attended every class, had completed every assignment, and had studied dutifully. I shouldn’t have felt the stress that I did, but I couldn’t control the jitters I was feeling. I spoke to my advisor, who was quite busy during this time of year, but she made time for me. I must not have done a very good job of hiding my stress, because when I walked into her office, she immediately knew why I was there. After letting me voice my stresses and worries, she ran me through a few exercises, some of which I still use to this day in order to reduce the amount of stress I feel.
The first thing she had me do was sit up in my chair. With my back straight and my chin up, taking deep breaths, I could already feel my stress leaving my body. She told me about the incredible impact that posture can have on levels of stress and confidence. She then asked me to do something I never would have thought of. She had me put my hands straight up above my head. I felt reluctant to do this, because I felt goofy, but once I did it, she had me hold that position with my hands up as if I had just won a race. She told me about two different hormones that are in every person: cortisol and testosterone. Cortisol is the hormone that makes us feel stress, and testosterone the hormone that makes us feel confidence. By sitting up and assuming a “power position,” we can actually trick our bodies into feeling more confidence and reducing the amount of anxiety we feel.
When I left my advisor’s office, I already felt much better about my upcoming finals. I hadn’t studied any more, and I certainly wasn’t more academically prepared than when I went to see my advisor, but my headspace was significantly better than it had been. I knew that if I wanted to feel a little more confident and a little less stressed, I needed to take a few deep breaths and put my hands up in the air like I just don’t care.