In today’s blog, we’ll learn how to overcome performance anxiety. This is especially helpful for students preparing for entrance exams, like the 11+ exam, or GCSE and A-Level exams.
An important step in learning to manage anxiety is to learn why we feel it.
What is anxiety?
Anxiety is a neuropathological response that was used to help keep our ancestors safe from giant saber tooth tigers.
It is a response that is initiated by a small part of the brain, the amygdala (or the ‘guard dog’), in order to keep us safe. This response is often referred to as the fight, flight, or freeze response.
It can actually be helpful in supporting us to deal with daily life, but not if it starts to take over when there are no dangers around us.
Common body sensations when dealing with anxiety:
- dry mouth
- increased heart rate
- rapid, shallow breathing
- tensed legs and arms
- brain fog
- blurry vision
- heightened sense of hearing/ vision
- goose bumps
- upset stomach
Anxiety and the Teenage Brain
Teens tend to feel anxiety more because of how our brains develop.
The prefrontal cortex, or the wise owl, is the part of the brain that deals with making good decisions and controlling our emotions. This part of the brain is not fully developed until we’re in our 20s.
The amygdala, the part of the brain that deals with feeling emotions, however, is fully developed!
Bearing this in mind can help us to empathise more with our teens’ feelings.
What is Performance Anxiety?
Performance anxiety is when our brain interprets a form of performance as a threat. It initiates the fight, flight, or freeze reaction and can cause us to feel very afraid and or overwhelmed.
This form of anxiety can stem from our belief that our worth is tied to results.
For many, performance anxiety is related to output.
This can be seen in children who don’t test well because they blank on questions or rush and miss words and or important details.
Is Performance Anxiety Normal?
To feel worried about your results is normal.
The longer that I work with students within the education setting, the more I meet children who have anxiety over school grades and exam outcomes.
How to Reduce Performance Anxiety
A question many families ask when we start working together is whether or not performance anxiety can go away.
I believe it can. It takes work and consistent effort. But it can be done!
The families that we have worked with through our emotional wellbeing coaching programs have experienced great success.
Our general programme covers over 4 main ideas:
1- Learn about the brain
2- Establish core values
3- Build a growth mindset and resilience
4- Dealing with anxiety
By covering these 4 key concepts, children and adults alike begin to feel more comfortable and are able to deal with their anxiety more efficiently.
Our monthly webinar series, the Mindful Toolbox, goes into detail about how to teach about the brain and support big feelings.
Thus, the key is to understand that anxiety about school and work and sport, is all normal. The adrenaline often helps us to perform at a higher standard!
Therefore while we don’t want to feel victim to anxious feelings, it is important to note that we can’t eliminate it completely. If we learn how to use it, we really can see great benefits.
More Resources to Support Performance Anxiety:
Teen Mental Health Mentors in Ascot
Sarahlynn is a mental health advocate and mindfulness practitioner based in Berkshire. She offers 1-1 mental and emotional wellbeing coaching programmes to help teenagers manage their emotions. Bettering Youth also provides academic tutoring that blends emotional wellbeing coaching.