Stress & Anxiety Management During Testing Season
Unless you’ve been living under a rock or inhabiting another planet, you know very well that we are hurtling headfirst into testing season! In this post, I’d like to address stress management during test season in schools. Anxiety and stress tax our body and inhibit performance, whether that takes the form of getting tongue tied or one’s ability on a district or state exam. Stress and anxiety are terms that are often used interchangeably nowadays, and although there is a lot of overlap between them, stress is actually a response to a threat in a situation, whereas anxiety is a reaction to the stress.
Several years ago, I had the amazing opportunity to live and travel outside of the United States for about 6 years. Most of my time was spent in developing countries across three continents. During this time, I always noticed the lack of stress, both in my life and in the lives of the people around me. Here in America, we live in a culture that moves at such an incredibly fast pace and with constant bombardment of stimuli and information. I never realized this until I left the USA. Suffice it to say, there are many places in the world where people have practically unlimited time to eat, converse, walk, think, and spend time with friends and family while still managing their work and family life! We don’t have that culture here in the United States, and it affects our well-being, health, peace of mind, and, most importantly, our children.
Kids today are often overwhelmed by our fast-paced culture, and they need tools to help them manage their resulting anxiety and stress. When I lived abroad, I would never even have thought to teach students techniques on how to manage their stress, but here in the States, I do it all the time, especially during testing season in schools. So I’ll leave it to the geniuses to try to figure out how to change our culture so a post like this is unnecessary. In the meantime, here are some tools that I’ve found work best at helping young people to manage their stress and anxiety.
Thankfully, there are all kinds of ways to alleviate the effects of stress caused by test anxiety (or any kind of anxiety, really). Because so much of test anxiety is linked to a fear of failure, it’s very enlightening for students to think about and discuss failure from a completely different Growth Mindset perspective. Carol Dweck, the founder of the Growth Mindset theory states, “In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.” You can learn more about using Growth Mindset to support your students by checking out this School Counselor Stephanie post.
The solutions below are applicable to managing all kinds of stress and many of them also foster Growth Mindset. The following activities will show students how to reframe their thoughts so that they can comfortably and safely handle the threat they perceive in a situation. Most of these activities will also simultaneously help students handle their anxiety reaction to the stress.
- Change Your Perspective One way to expose students to Growth Mindset is to watch this fabulous Michael Jordan commercial that views failure from a completely different (and better!) perspective. Showing this commercial is a great way to kick off a fab discussion about how a test is just a test and how test failure today can lead to academic success tomorrow.
- Breathe Teach students a stress reduction strategy that they can use right at their desk in the class. Muscle relaxation, positive imagery, and deep breathing all work wonderfully in this capacity. Here is a link to a unique breathing strategy that you can teach your students.
- Famous Failures. Show the image at the bottom of this post, and discuss how some of the world’s most accomplished superstars faced a lot of failure before they made it big.
- Color! Studies show that coloring helps to calm stress. Find free mandalas for students to color at https://www.free-mandalas.net/.
- Book a Teen Truth Assembly All of the Teen Truth Assemblies include elements, both direct and indirect, to help students manage their stress.
- Talk. During the first few minutes of a lesson or group session, ask if anyone wants to discuss anything on their mind related to stress. Try to keep these discussions to no more than 5–10 minutes so as to not focus the entire session or lesson on them. If you feel that group members will have trouble staying within this time constraint, I like to use a group timer. Keep your talks focused on solutions rather than problems. Encourage everyone to remain helpful, sincere, and direct in addressing stress and anxiety.
- Laugh and Sing If all else fails, just use humor and music! Show your students one of these superfun testing music videos:
More Stress Management Resources
Here are some of my other favorite anxiety calming resources:
- If you teach/counsel littles, here’s a great music video on belly breathing featuring famous musicians Common and Colby Caillet!
- Here’s a super article from Edutopia on supporting your ESL students during testing season: Survive and Thrive During Testing Season.
- Kidshealth.org has wonderful anti-anxiety resources in Spanish and English for kids and teens.
- School Counselor Stephanie’s own spring guidance lesson on using Growth Mindset and positive self-talk to battle anxiety gives students simple and effective calming strategies.
- Testing Miss Malarky and Salt in his Shoes are two of the best picture books on this topic!
I hope all the goodies above can help get you and your people through this testing season. You can also look for my new book coming out this spring to get you through NEXT year’s testing season! Get Your Group On: Multi-Topic Small Group Counseling Guides Volume TWO has an entire curriculum guide on running a stress management student support group! Here’s the link to check it out:
Free Lesson Plan
In closing I’d like to leave you with a freebie guidance lesson that that will help your students (and you!) with stress. It is a lesson that students can apply while at school. This lesson can be taught by a counselor or any other school staff member.
That’s all for today, Folks. Hope to see you back here next month for my April post on helping kids who self-harm.
School Counselor, TEEN TRUTH