Presenter: Colleen Daly Martinez, Ph.D.
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Dr. Martinez discussed how we might identify test anxiety in students and how test anxiety can interfere with a person’s functioning. She shared a number of ways we might prevent, and help students to cope with test anxiety including breathing exercises, and meditation.
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Now, I’m going to turn over the introduction of our speaker to Martha Butterfield, The webinar co-ordinator of N J. CTS Marti.
Thanks, Kelly. Good evening, everyone, and welcome, Thank you all for attending. Before I introduce tonight’s presenter, I would like to call your attention to the slide that will be on the screen momentarily.
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Now, to the introduction of doctor Colleen Daly Martinez tonight’s presenter, doctor Martinez is a real Jersey girl, born and raised here receiving her undergrad, MSW, and PHD from Rutgers University.
She is a licensed clinical social worker and a registered play therapy supervisor with more than 20 years experience providing clinical services to children and families. She has worked in a wide range of institutional environments including medical, correctional, outpatient mental health, public schools, and private practice with a specialty in play therapy and children.
In her private practice, doctor Martinez provides supervision and consultation to individuals and agencies, particularly regarding interventions with children.
She provides school based play therapy to Preschoolers and Irving to New Jersey and is also a part-time lecturer at Rutgers in their MSW program.
Doctor Martinez, welcome to our Wednesday webinar program, and now, without further introduction, I’m happy to turn tonight’s presentation over to you.
Thank you so much, and thank you, folks, for being here on this beautiful summer evening with us.
So, a few introductory thoughts regarding the topic of test taking and student anxiety. What do we mean? What are we talking about? When we refer to tests? For our conversation this evening, we’re talking about really any assessment situation where a student feels like they are being assessed. It could be a paper and pencil test, a computer based test, or even an assessment situation in a classroom.
And a little bit more on anxiety.
one of the premises that we need to start with from the beginning is that not all anxiety is problematic. And I want you to have a good understanding of that, because our goal is not to get rid of all of a student’s anxiety. Anxiety can be very helpful to us, as students, and just as people in the world. Anxiety is what made us sit down at our computer on time to, to attend the webinar on time. Anxiety is often what makes us pay our bills on time. It certainly makes us look both ways before we cross the street.
So we’re not talking about all anxiety here, and we’re not talking about getting rid of all anxiety. What do I mean when we’re talking about students?
Well, students who are being tested and assessed, they can be very young students, even some students in preschool, are, are exposed to tests and assessments, and certainly, up until graduate school students, will be tested and assessed.
My presentation for you tonight will hopefully be valuable to parents, to teachers, certainly to students, and anyone else who cares for students.
And my hope is to give you some information on test taking in student anxiety and coping with that anxiety.
So, a little bit on the format of tonight’s webinar, I’m going to talk to you about some of the history of the, and the research and test anxiety. We’ll talk about how test anxiety might impact a student’s functioning.
Then, we’ll talk about how you might identify, and then certainly prevent, and intervene, or treat, test anxiety at the end of the webinar.
We will have time for questions and answers, and I hope to answer them all for you then, and throughout our time, this evening, throughout our time the evening, Right?
I failed to consider the cat that might want to join us for our webinar, I apologize: throughout the evening, we are going to go over and discuss a number of coping skills to help treat and adress test anxiety.
So, first, let’s talk about test anxiety. I’m not going to get into clinical diagnosis while I do treat MSW students and I do teach.
Sorry, I do teach MSW students and I teach psychopathology in terms of evaluating and diagnosing clients. We’re not going to get into that today because that’s really not the purview of our conversation.
But what we do want to talk about is what do we mean by problematic test anxiety? So, why should we even be concerned about this?
Well, first of all, test anxiety might jeopardize the validity of an assessment tool. So performance on a test might be as much an indicator of the student’s ability to deal with high levels of stress and anxiety as much as it is a test of what they’re trying to measure. So sometimes test anxiety can even interfere with the results of the test, and that’s, of course, a problem.
What is test anxiety? It’s a set of cognitive, physical, and behavioral responses that come with concerns about failure, or the potential negative consequences of a test.
Test anxious students have a …, tend to have a particularly low threshold for anxiety in evaluation situations. They tend to react emotionally at the first hint of failure.
They frequently have self derogatory cognitions. So they believe bad things about themselves.
Students with test anxiety tend to experience reduced feelings of self efficacy or their ability to achieve and they often experience anticipatory failure attributions. Well, what does that mean in plain language? Students who experienced test anxiety often believe that they are going to fail at things. They experienced successive worry, intrusive thoughts, tension, and physical physiological arousal and evaluation situations.
So, if any of this sounds familiar to you, either from your own experience, or from your child’s experience, or from your student’s experience, hopefully tonight, you will leave with some tools that will help you to yourself, or help your child soothed themselves. If they experienced these negative reactions to evaluation situations, I do have to tell you that there is some homework involved with this Webinar.
And I hope that you will find it valuable.
At the end of the evening, you’ll be able to open up the PowerPoint slides, which will have links.
All of these links are meant to be helpful resources to you to practice some of the skills that we’re going to talk about this evening. Also, on the blog, if you’d like a more easy access to the web based, web based resources, I’m going to post those links for you. So we’re going to talk about a lot of these skills, and then I’m going to give you resources that you can use to practice in the future.
So, a little bit of background on test anxiety.
So, here’s a quote that I found that I thought was relevant to to today. We live in a test conscious test given culture, in which the lives of people are in part determined by their test performance.
I’m sure that many of you would agree with that quote today.
The thing that surprised me was that this was a quote from the 19 fifties. So this idea of test taking and of education being very test involved is not a new one. In fact, researchers were looking at and talking about this kind of this idea of test anxiety as early as the 19 thirties and saracens.
The person who’s quoted here was one of the first researchers to really focus a whole lot on test anxiety.
Now, of course, today, things are different than they were in the fifties since No Child Left Behind act of 2001. And the requirements of standardized testing where schools and teachers effectiveness are being reported publicly, where there are rewards and sanctions. There is money awarded. There is money lost. Schools are closed. Sometimes states are coming in and taking over schools based on test scores. These are what we call high stakes tests. And certainly the context of the student going in and taking tests these days is very different than it was in the fifties.
So now that I might have increased your heart rate and your stress level, and just bringing up the idea of high stakes tests, I want to introduce the first coping skill, and the first coping skill that I’m hoping that you will practice with me a little tonight, and then a whole lot in the future is what we call diaphragmatic breathing.
Now, we all breathe automatically, it’s just something that we do, but sometimes, under stress, we breathe well.
Or we breathe poorly, and good. Breathing allows for more oxygen to enter our blood.
Good breathing keeps us more alert and energized. Portia poor breathing or shallow breathing can actually lead to lightheadedness, hyper ventilation, and an increase in anxiety.
Poor breathing can leap two, dizziness, confusion, and overall, it’s poor breathing is not going to be helpful to the test anxious student.
So, the first thing I’d like to remind you of is the poor breathing, that sometimes we just do automatically when we’re anxious. Imagine that you’re in a stressful situation and you’re sitting down in front of a test. Or perhaps you were just physically scared by something in your environment, and we tend to breathe like this really fast and really shallow breathing. That does not suit us. It’s not good for us when we breathe that way.
Diaphragmatic breathing is a, is a less natural type of breathing for many of us, but it’s something that over time if you practice it, it can really help you to see yourself better.
The link that I have for you here that I hope you use later, especially if you have younger children, is a really cute video from Sesame Street that was placed on YouTube. and there are songs and popular characters that are demonstrating this concept of belly breathing. So, if you’ve got preschoolers or early school aged kids, this might be a good resource to use with them to teach them how to breathe the right way.
Now, of course, most of us are adults, and we’re not going to be that responsive to Sesame Street videos for ourselves. So I have some tools to work with older kids or adolescents or adults like us.
So the first thing that I would ask you to do is to pay attention.
two breathing in your nose and out through your mouth.
So I’m going to ask you to actually do this with me, even though I can’t sell. If you’re really doing it, I want you to take a deep breath in through your nose.
And breathe out through your mouth.
Now put your hand on your belly and take a big breath in through your nose.
And breathe out through your mouth.
You should notice that your belly goes up and down. When you breathe that way.
It’s a more refreshing breath. It’s something that will help you sooth yourself physiologically if you’re dealing with those stress symptoms.
Another tip that you might want to try with your younger kids, or even to remember for yourself, because sometimes when we’re stressed, we have a hard time remembering how to breathe properly is weak, Smell a rose and blow out a candle.
So, those are visual prompts that you might use to remind yourself of the proper breathing.
So, again, if we use good breathing, it’s going to be more calming, it’s going to relax our muscles, believe it or not, it’ll actually lower our blood pressure, And obviously, it will interrupt the anxious cycle better than that shallow, fast breathing. So a little bit more on test anxiety. Researchers, and folks who have studied test anxiety wonder, is test anxiety, an individual problem. Or is it a dynamic process? And these days, most of the researchers that are looking at this issue really think that it’s probably a combination of both. There’s an individual who brings with them their own background and experience, their own experiences with stress and trauma, their own coping skills. But then there’s also the evaluate, the evaluation context. So what’s it like in the environment where they’re taking this test?
Those things probably are what come together to either create or prevent a person from having test anxiety, we’re going to talk about these in more detail.
But first, I’d like to talk to you a little bit about how do we measure test anxiety, or how would you know that it’s there.
Well, most of the tools that have been used in the research and in clinical practice are based on self report.
These are questionnaires or interviews where students are asked to report on their experience of anxiety and testing situations.
one tool that I think is quite helpful that is readily available for you and is actually available for free is the childrens test anxiety scale.
Now, the children’s test anxiety scale is something that was developed by these Researchers, Wren, and Benson. And they’re actually very responsive to inquiry about their tool. They’re very interested in people using their tool. It’s something that they developed to assess, test anxiety in children that were eight years and older.
And, believe it or not, if you just send an e-mail to that e-mail address on the screen, the researcher will very likely just send you a copy of the tool for free and talk to you about how to interpret the results.
If you work in a school setting or in a research setting, I have no doubt that she’d be very happy to share that test with you.
If this is something that you would like to do as a screening tool with groups of children, if you are not a teacher or an administrator, but you’d like to know the kinds of things that these tests, that these questionnaires ask, These are some of the kinds of questions. The child fills out a form and answers. When I’m taking a test, I feel nervous. My face feels hot. I worry about failing. I find it hard to sit still. I worry if my answers are right.
So the cognitive problems, the the thought errors or worries, the physiological symptoms, those are some of the things that the childrens test anxiety and other scales look for.
What are some signs of test anxiety?
If you don’t have a questionnaire or you don’t want to query your child, we’ll certainly tearfulness attention seeking behaviors, constant search for reassurance, obviously, verbalizing concerns or worries about tests. Those which might also be signs as well.
Some of the researchers are finding that test anxiety seems to be increasing. And some postulate that urban schools and urban students may be under more pressure because of the context of these high stakes tests. So certainly, this is an issue that is very relevant to many of us, whether we’re parents or teachers or school professionals.
So, I’d like to talk to you about another coping skill.
And for those of you who have had her introductory psychology course, this may be very review for you. For those of you who haven’t, it might be something totally new. But it’s something that we use a lot in psychotherapy and it’s called Challenging Cognitive Distortions.
And it’s based on this idea that our thoughts and our behaviors and our feelings are all connected. And our thoughts influence our behaviors and our feelings, and they all kind of influence each other. And so, when there is a thought error or a thought problem, that can create maladaptive behaviors and maladaptive feelings. And if we could correct those thought errors, we can change that whole cycle.
So I want to give you a couple of examples. one example might be the distorted thought or the incorrect thought that the student has that. I always fail tests will imagine that you’re a student who’s going in to take a test, and in your mind, you’re thinking to yourself, I always fail tests. How are you going to feel?
If you believe that, you’re probably going to feel very anxious, very nervous, very uncomfortable, very upset.
And what’s your behavior going to be like? If you think, I always fail tests, and you feel very nervous and anxious, your behavior may be very off task. It may be over emotional, it may be distracted, it might be disruptive.
So you could see how the maladaptive thought can really feed negative thoughts. I’m sorry, negative feelings and behaviors.
So when we talk about challenging, cognitive distortions, we talk about identifying the maladaptive thought and trying to change it to make it more adaptive.
So what might be an example of a more adaptive thought? I want you to think about that for a second.
So if the student automatically thinks, I always fail tests, what might be a more adaptive thought?
Well, one more adaptive thought would be, I’ve passed a lot of tests.
If a student goes in feeling, I’ve passed a lot of, sorry.
If a student goes in thinking I’ve passed a lot of tests, they might feel more hopeful, less anxious, they might feel a little unconfident. Their behavior might be more on task. It might be more proactive. It might be more appropriate. Another example of a distorted thought just really quickly.
The thought might be: this test means my whole future.
I’m sure, you know, people who have had that experience before where they really do believe this test means my whole future.
Well, if I really believe that, I’m going to feel incredibly anxious going to this test and I may behave irrationally. I may behave very anxiously. I may behave very off task, or just not productive length.
So what might be a more productive thought to have? Of course, some tests are very, very important. Some tests really do make an impact in your future. But then, when we think about it, really, most tests you can take over again, right? So your whole future doesn’t depend on actually passing this test this time, right? And that’s the process of challenging, cognitive distortions, it’s finding some evidence to counter, that irrational thought.
The file that I have for you here is a really comprehensive list of the types of cognitive distortions that people experience, and also how to challenge them.
So let’s say I’m a student who was convinced that my whole future depends on me passing this test tomorrow.
Some things that you might want to help me talk through, are the idea that most tests can be retaken.
And most of the time, people evaluate you based on lots of other things, as well as your test score. But, usually, your whole life doesn’t depend on this one test and other people have failed this test in the past and still have become successful.
So, that challenging my cognitive distortion might help, and I might actually be able to open up to the idea that yeah. Well, this test is pretty important.
My whole life doesn’t depend on it.
And if I feel, If, I believe, if I think, that my whole life doesn’t depend on this test even though it is important, I might feel a little bit more confident and my behavior might be a little bit more productive and healthy for me.
So, again, this file, which, this resource, which will also be available to you on the blog, is a really good tool for helping you figure out what kinds of cognitive distortions a person, a student might be experiencing, and how you might challenge those.
So, let’s talk a little bit about the prevalence. How often does test anxiety happen? How widespread of a problem is it? Well, research really varies. There are estimates that say between 10 and 41% of school age students experience test anxiety.
There’s a lot of research. That gives us reason to believe that students with disabilities have higher rates of test anxiety. Also, non white students and females seem to have higher rates of test anxiety.
Test anxiety has been documented in children as young as seven and very often, the question comes up, how much does test anxiety overlap with generalized anxiety? Is it just that the students are anxious to begin with? And that’s why they’re having test anxiety?
Or, is this a completely separate phenomenon.
And, I don’t know that there’s research on that. I would just say that for our purposes, we’re here to talk about test anxiety. And it’s, it would be very expectable that if somebody does experienced generalized anxiety, if they are anxious about most things, that, of course, test taking situations are going to probably increase anxiety for them as well, but not necessarily so.
How does test anxiety impact a person? Well, there’s lots of research that says that It interferes with test performance, as I said before.
Unfortunately, test anxiety can also interfere with learning, attention, working memory, problems with organizing semantic information, effectively, problem solving.
So these tests where we’re asking students to produce words and and comprehensive passages, test anxiety might interfere with their ability to do that effectively. Lots of researchers have documented that there’s a negative impact on GPA.
Students who have high levels of test anxiety are more likely to drop out of school.
And of course, just intuitive, but also the research supports this idea that test Anxiety reduces motivation and heightens stress.
one study of high school graduation tests and test anxiety found that up to 15% of the variants in test scores was contributed, contributed to test anxiety. So I’m gonna say that again. A group of students are given a high school graduation test. And believe it or not, about fifth up to 15% of the variants in their scores could be based on test anxiety. So that’s how much test anxiety can really interfere with a student’s performance. So we’ve got this cycle, There’s test anxiety, and then it causes problems and motivation, and coping and performing tasks, and then there’s problems with learning and performance. And then the person feels less self-confident and less capable. And it’s just this vicious cycle, and I’m sure that you’re probably stress just hearing about it because you’re here tonight because you’re concerned that somebody’s experiencing this in your life.
I wish I could tell you that I have a simple cure, but I really do believe that having a large toolbox of interventions, of ways of coping with this anxieties is really a helpful way to go. So to give you another coping skill or remind you of another one, I want to talk to you a little bit about guided imagery.
So, many of you have experienced this before. So you’re in somebody’s office or you’re in a yoga group and they encourage you to close your eyes and imagine that you’re on a beach. And it’s a beautiful, calm, peaceful beach and the sun is going down. And the breeze is blowing in your hair and you can hear the goals and the distance and you can hear the waves lapping on the Shore. The purpose of that kind of exercise is to teach you how to bring yourself to peace, even when you are under stress.
It’s not something that works the first time. It’s not something that works every time for an anxious person. But over time, after you practice that kind of imagery, you can actually learn to sooth yourself and calm yourself physiologically and also calm your thoughts and calm your emotions.
So I have two tools for you here. one is a great resource, a whole list of audio files that you can listen to for free to help you.
Walkthrough guided imagery activities. Another is actually a link to a video that has been posted online that also gives you imagery and audio. So with any of these coping skills, they’re only as useful as you make them.
And of course, if you have a very riled up child, who’s anxious and stressed right now about the tests that she’s taking in an hour, that’s not the time to pull at one of these coping skills.
But if you know you have a child who’s anxious, and you want to give them tools to cope with their anxiety, these kinds of things, you might want to start building into your regular routine, so that when they face small worries, or anxiety, in their everyday life, they can start practicing these activities.
So, that when the big stress and anxiety times come, they remember that they have these tools, or you remind them that they have these tools.
So let’s talk a little bit more about the high stakes testing, and this is some relatively recent research, and it looked at how students were impacted by test anxiety, relatively large sample kids that were grades 3 to 5. They, basically, the researchers, looked at students experience of regular classroom tests, teacher develop tests and high stakes tests, they ask teachers how the students seemed. They asked teachers, have the students performed. They asked students how they felt.
Basically, they found that students felt more anxious for high stakes test versus teacher develop tests. Girls seem to be more anxious than boys on both types of tests. Teachers perceive that their students were more anxious before high stakes tests but that they were about the same in terms of anxiety during both types of tests and teachers experienced more anxiety about high stakes tests. Now, that kind of makes sense, right? As we talked about before, These high stakes tests are leading to teachers being ranked on their so-called effectiveness. These scores and rankings are being shared publicly. Teacher evaluations are being linked to high stakes test scores, so it kind of makes sense that teachers would be more anxious.
Of course, not surprisingly, at all these researchers, or, some researchers have found that when teachers are anxious about tests, they changed their teaching methods, and they do more test prep. So unfortunately.
Teaching methods, wind up being more, test focused, when teachers are anxious, and it makes sense. Of course, that also teacher anxiety might increase student anxiety.
So, we’re not just talking about how are students feeling about tests, we should also be talking about how do parents feel about tests, and how do teachers feel about tests, and how can we all cope with that anxiety.
So onto our next coping skill.
So progressive muscle relaxation I would imagine, is also something that’s not new to you. If you’ve gone to a yoga class or you’ve gone to a meditation, you’ve experienced the process of somebody saying that you should sit in a comfortable position or lie in a comfortable position, and then they bring you through a gradual progression of flexing your muscles and letting your muscles relax. And the purpose of progressive muscle relaxation is to physically sooth your attention and your physical anxiety and to teach you how to physically see yourself in the future.
Again, this is not something that we’re going to do right now, but it is something that I encourage you to practice for yourself, or also with your child or your students. So again, I have two resources for you. one is a website that will share lots of audio files with you on progressive muscle relaxation activities and then also some video links to help you do that as well.
So let’s talk a little bit about schools and how they might see test anxiety and how they might deal with it.
Well, not every individual student is going to have an opportunity to have intervention.
But it would be ideal if district and school wide administrators thought about prevention and intervention.
Thinking about school culture, thinking about the culture of the test, to prevent and to scream If students are experiencing test anxiety, there may be staff consultation, training teachers on relaxation techniques. And again, screening for all to identify if there are students who experience more anxiety than others. If you’re in a school setting, and you are able to screen students and you’ll find that there are a handful in each class that experience higher levels of text anxiety than you might consider doing in small groups. This could be school social workers, or guidance counselors, or any support staff, or even teaching staff, with time given to them and support, given the given to them. To work on relaxation, there’s some projects that look at teaching, that cognitive, behavioral intervention, that challenging cognitive distortions in small groups. There are some projects that have done psycho education.
So actually in small group settings, teaching children, teaching students about test anxiety, and teaching them about the function of anxiety, and when it can become problematic, and how to cope with it.
Other projects have looked at academic skill building, Test taking skills, and study skills to increase students, felt sense of competence.
So there are lots of different options in terms of schools developing interventions if they can do some small group work.
If you have an individual student or your own child that has an extreme reaction to test anxiety, an individual treatment option that is available and has been used for these issues is biofeedback. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with biofeedback.
So for those of you who aren’t just to give you a little bit of background biofeedback is the process of using computers in therapy to provide heart rate data.
And basically what we do is we link the individual up to the computer to measure their heart rate. And sometimes also their breathing patterns and to teach them relaxation techniques. So they get real time feedback on their control of their biological processes. And I actually have a program here that I use.
And it’s just a little finger sensor that I plug into my computer, and it actually looks like a video game.
And the individual can make an airplane fly higher by reducing their blood pressure for improving their breathing, and then the plant starts to go down if they’re, if their blood pressure, goes to high.
So, it basically teaches in a very immediate feedback format how to control my biological processes. Now, this is not something you want to do or need to do with every student.
But if there are individual kids who have really extreme anxiety and a hard time soothing themselves, this may be an individual intervention that you might want to pursue with a psychotherapist. So other programs have taught students time management, how to sort problems, when taking tests, all those test, taking skills. Back solving of problems. These are all different ideas of what schools have done.
So again, we’re not going to do it to the individual intervention for every child. It would be great if on a district or school wide level, they would think about prevention and possibly screening. When they do identify students who have higher levels of test anxiety, they might do small group, or class interventions.
And then, of course, for those individual students who have very high levels of test anxiety, you might think about individual intervention.
So there’s a book that you might be interested in, and it’s called Test Anxiety. And What can You Do About It? And they gave me some good things to think about. And some good things for us to think about. So be careful how you communicate about the importance of the test administrators and teachers now. I don’t know about you, but lately I’ve heard lots of things about pep, rallies regarding tests coming up, rewards and incentives drawings. Video, games being given out to students, who are pulled out of a drawing. Sometimes schools are decorated, Some of you might have seen on YouTube choreographed, dances, and the purpose, I guess is to kind of pump students and staff up about about facing, and dealing with this test. There isn’t any research on those kinds of practices yet that I know of.
But one of the things that I thought about in looking at this book about test anxiety was, when we’re spending so much time and energy and focus of our school day in our school year, on this test, is it possible that we’re sending a wrong message about the importance of this test?
one of the things that we need to keep in mind as adults, as parents, as administrators, as teachers, is that any test is just a snapshot.
It’s just one piece of information that we use, in addition to lots of other pieces of information, to give us an assessment of how things are going. So, we might want to think about that in terms of how, how we communicate about the test’s, especially in the school setting.
Another thing that we need to that we might think about is how do we communicate about the test and its importance and how do we communicate about the results and what they mean.
And that’s a complicated conversation for for that. I don’t think we’re going to get a solution to now. But it’s something to think about.
what does any particular test and its results mean about the students, about the teacher, about the school, about anyone who’s involved in the process and And communicate our values and our priorities when we talk about these things.
The book also recommends using guided relaxation techniques before testing.
Deep breathing helps students identify their anxious feelings, concentrate on reinforcing messages of test success, so kind of live in the moment, in the classroom. Teaching students how to calm themselves physically, how to calm their worries. How to improve their confidence?
Another technique that I came across a lot, that I thought it sounded possibly helpful, was this idea of stop, drop, and roll. Of course, that’s something we’ve heard a million times, but in a different context, The idea of stop, drop and roll here, was, when you’re in the middle of taking a test, and you’re feeling really mixed up, or upset or anxious or overwhelmed, to stop taking the test for a second.
If you’re holding your pencil, drop your pencil and roll your head around, roll your neck around, Roll your shoulders. The idea is to pay attention to those physical symptoms of anxiety, so that you can cope, and so that you can continue.
one more coping skill that I’d like to share with you, And it’s something that I think some of you might have come across either on YouTube or Instagram, or Facebook.
Amy Cutty is a relatively prominent social psychologist, and she studies people’s perceptions of others, and is particularly interested in body language.
And so she looks at stress hormones. And she looks at body language, and she looks at people’s perceptions of others.
And she did some really interesting work this recently that has been shared pretty widely. I’m going to show you a couple of pictures.
So Amy Cutty talks about different kinds of poses. That’s her.
And she looked at people’s body language, and she compared how people feel, when they’re in different positions.
She talked about high power Posers, and other poses.
And so to her, her high powered poses were the kinds of poses where somebody is open, and kind of expansive, and taking up a lot of physical space. And lower power positions are ones where people are kind of closed look and appear more timid. So the pictures on the bottom are kind of like the lower powered positions And what she failed from her research is where it was really interesting. Well, I’m not sure if you know, but cortisol is a stress hormone, and when people are under stress, their cortisol levels go up.
And testosterone is a hormone that makes a person feel more assertive, more confident, and more relaxed.
And some of the very interesting findings from her studies are that when people spend time in power poses, their tossed testosterone goes up and their cortisol goes down.
And vice versa for low power positions. So, how might we use that information?
Um, one of the things that she recommends is before you go into a stressful or difficult situation, or in this context, a test taking situation, that you go somewhere private.
Maybe the locker room or the bathroom or your office if you have your own office and you can close your door, and you put yourself into a power pose, You might do the Wonder Woman pose, or you might do the Captain America pose.
And you hold that kind of power position for two minutes, and her research tells us that if you do that for two minutes, your testosterone will go up, and your cortisol will go down.
And that may result in better coping.
And it may result in more healthy thought processes and behavior that so, lots of kids like cartoon characters. Certainly, you don’t need to use Wonder Woman or Captain America. But these are just ideas.
This is something that you might practice, teach your kids and practice with them as well as a way of coping with their anxiety.
On this YouTube link is a really great, very brief ted talk where Amy Cuddy talks about her research and I think you’ll find that quite interesting. If you have, I think it’s either 3 or 5 minutes to listen to that Ted Talk.
So we’ve been talking about lots of different coping skills.
Remember that there are lots of things that we can do to calm ourselves. When we’re anxious We can pay attention to the physical, we can do deep breathing. We can do muscle relaxation.
When we’re emotionally not feeling well, we can do visualization, We can use meditation. When we have distorted thoughts, we can use positive self talk. We can challenge cognitive discourse, distortions.
When we put all of these tools together, we might be a little bit more effective at coping with our test anxiety.
So, a couple of more thoughts, and then I am going to open up our conversation for questions and answers.
So, again, there’s almost always the question of how much is test anxiety really about generalized anxiety? I would imagine that most of you folks who are here concerned about your own children or maybe your own students. As you know, it really depends on the individual. If you have a, an individual who’s anxious all the time, then, maybe, the test anxiety is just about their generalized anxiety. Either way, we want to help individuals. We want to help kids and students with their anxiety. So, whether it be testis specific or generalized anxiety for our purposes, we don’t really need to pair them out.
Again, I think it’s very important for us to be careful about how we communicate our priorities.
Some other thoughts that we didn’t really go into, but might be helpful to be mindful of, is the importance of sleep.
Researchers find that children need far more sleep than they are getting. And so it’s really important for you to do what you can to shape your child’s schedule, to allow them for as much sleep as possible. I think there’s even some legislation going on now to look at school starting times, because because they’re really impacting, students need for sleep. That being said, you can’t change your schools starting time. But you might want to think about, what can you do, not just in testing situations, but in your child’s daily schedule. And now is a good time of year to start thinking about this. What time should your child go to sleep to get adequate sleep to meet their physical and emotional needs? It’s always a great idea.
Too, give kids opportunities for exercise.
That might include yoga, it might include meditation, it might include martial arts, dance, whatever They are interested in, whatever they might be good at, or they might want to try to help them physically have success, and also to gain some mastery.
In ways other than academically, and also yoga meditation, martial arts dance, they can all give students important lessons on self control, which is a really vital part of self soothing.
Of course, we want to think about healthy nutrition, not only on test days, but every day, we want to think about sugar. If that’s relevant to your child’s diet, we want to think about caffeine intake. I am continually surprised to see young people consuming lots of caffeine drinks. It’s something that I certainly wasn’t used to as a kid. And I think that, that really is much more impactful in terms of physical functioning of young people now.
It’s very important for us, as adults now, that we have this information or reminders of this information, that we teach coping skills. But it’s also even more important for us to model good coping skills as a parent, even though there are times that I feel overwhelmed, that I don’t want to be the role model for good coping skills. I just want to let it all out. I constantly try to remind myself that the way that I cope with stress in front of my child is part of how she’s going to learn how to cope. And so, that’s very important for us as parents and teachers to think about as well.
We also need to kind of just be aware that not all tests or assessment situations are developmentally appropriate for our child. And so we need to think about it, Is this an assessment situation that is developmentally appropriate for my child, or their learning disabilities, or challenges, that maybe have not been identified, that might be making this particularly challenging for my student.
At the end of the day, one of the most important things to remind yourself of every day is that you are your child’s best advocate.
And so, to be aware of how your child is doing, try to bring them the skills that they need.
And if you need support in getting them more coping skills, you’re the one to do it. There are lots of resources out there. Again, after our webinar is done, I am going to give you these links on the blog so you can access them, I really do hope that you find them useful.
And I do look forward to hearing your questions. I hope this information has been helpful, and I think, now I’m going to turn it back over to Kelly, so that I can hear what questions you might have.
OK, thank you very much. I think you’ve provided a lot of really useful information for our listeners. Do have some questions, so I’m going to start with those right away.
So, you’ve got a child that has some anxiety, It doesn’t indicate here how old the child is, but how do you, how do you, as a parent, talk to the child about high stakes test, how do you prepare them for this.
That’s a really good question.
As a Mom And as a therapist, I think that good communication between parents and kids really lays the foundation for everything, the future mental health, for, for future, for, for current well-being, and future well-being.
So I think that it’s very important to talk about all kinds of things, and it’s not always a good time to do that. Most of us are working, as well as trying to get our kids to school on time. And then trying to get meals.
Prepared, meals fed, laundry done.
We’re so incredibly busy and stressed, and sometimes it’s hard to have calm conversations about anything.
But I think that not only with test taking, but with, with anything that our kids are facing, it’s really important to have good conversations. And what do I mean by good conversations?
Conversations that are developmentally appropriate, we give kids information only, that’s kind of at their level, we don’t want to give them more information than they need to have, certainly. We don’t want to give kids so much information, that is going to increase their anxiety unnecessarily.
Um, also with that, I think it’s very important, as I said a couple of seconds ago, that parents communicate that they’re able to cope and that they can model that they can cope. So how to how to talk to kids about high stakes tests?
I think first of all it starts with, um, it starts with talking to your kids about all kinds of things, how school going, how’s the lunchroom going? How’s things going with your classroom teacher?
Who are your friends, who do you have a hard time with, how do you feel about this class? How do you feel about your homework? What’s happening next week? What activities are going on after school? So it’s not just that we’re having sit down conversations about very serious things like high stakes tests. But when it does come to talking about the tests, I think it’s important to be honest with kids about what the test means. What is the purpose of the test, What does it meant to show?
What does it say about them? What does it meant to say about them, or anyone else?
And I think that, especially with high stakes test, it’s important for parents to decide for themselves, what do these tests mean. How important is it for my child’s educational experience before they try and explain it to their kids?
And certainly, I would not encourage parents to use the term high stakes with their kids, you know, that that term is a term that’s used in research. And it’s a term that’s used politically to kind of communicate the seriousness of the stakes. But I don’t think that, for most kids, they need to, They need to hear that terminology. High stakes, because, of course, that automatically creases all increases all of our anxiety.
No kidding, I think you’re right there.
But what you’ve just said, though, points out, a really good, makes a really good point, is that keeping the lines of communication open between parent and child is really important. Because you touch on those things that, in that case, how’s it going? Who are your friends and all that?
They’re not really big, major issues, but they’re important, and it encourages that kind of communication between the parent and the child. So that when you get to the important stuff, you’re already in a rhythm of communicating.
And I have to add to that, I think that um for us as you know grownups who have bills to pay and really important jobs to do. Who are your friends and how’s it going? And class are the really big important things. But I think it’s also a good reminder to to remember what your kids job is And when your kid is a kid, who’s your friend and how’s class going really is the biggest thing in the world. And that’s where they spend most of their time.
And so, to try and have a view of life from your kid’s perspective, well, you don’t always have the time or energy to do that. I think it can be really helpful. Millimeter, huh? I couldn’t agree more. So, so, how do you communicate to parents who are hard on their children about test taking?
So, you know, how do you handle those situations? Wow. That’s tough.
I think that, um, our culture, more and more, tends to really value academic achievement.
And we’re a very competitive culture, and in certain areas of where you live, it’s even hyper competitive.
And, so, I think a lot of times, parents are very, very concerned about grades, and test taking, and test scores, sometimes, even more than, than teachers and school staff are.
And we all have our own backgrounds and our own issues, as to why this is so important.
But as a mental health professional, one of the things that I want to remind parents of, is that, probably one of their goals, most parents have a goal for their kid, that they’re going to be healthy, well rounded, and happy individuals. And, of course, we want our children to be successful as well.
But how do we define success? How do we measure success?
I would try to encourage parents, not just to look at one measure. When I also teach at the university level and why when I assess my students, I’m not looking at one measure to see, is this a good student or is this a competent professional?
I’m looking at lots of different measures, and so for, for parents who seem to be very concerned with those test scores, I would remind them that that’s just one measure of how their kid is doing. And some other measures are, How happy are they? How many friends do they have? How well liked are they by their teachers? How well liked or they by their peers? Are they involved in activities? Do they seem to be enjoying life? These are all really important indicators that might be equally as important as those test scores.
Millimeter, hmm, OK. I have a question that’s that’s actually had two questions that are kind of similar, so I’m gonna kind of roll them together a little bit, because they really do pertained to almost the same thing.
So the question is about testing anxiety specifically in adults or college age students, and carrying that forward. The other question was over into professional life, where does, you know, what are the distinctions there and, and, you know, how do you manage that?
OK, so, that’s, that’s a really relevant and really good question, and it hits home, because we’re constantly assessed, even though we’re not kids anymore, and some of us may not even be students anymore, But we’re still being assessed, and so anxiety isn’t something that goes away as we age or as we mature, or as we become successful.
And so, I think that, as human beings, we constantly face assessment situations. It might be licensing exams. It might be performance situations where we need to speak publicly.
So I think all of these are very, very similar, and it’s about how can we bring the, how can we bring the good stuff from the anxiety? Because anxiety brings us good stuff, it gives us energy, it motivates us, It helps us focus sometimes. How can we take the good parts of the anxiety and minimize, or decrease the bad parts of the anxiety? And so I would say that having good coping skills is really valuable. No matter how old you are. And if you feel like you have insufficient coping skills, then it’s a good idea to try and expand your repertoire.
Perhaps try a meditation class, try a yoga class.
Try and practice some visualization or some progressive muscle relaxation to try and build your own repertoire, even if you are an adult.
Because we all face anxiety in certain situations.
Are there any assessment tools that, that help for those older, you know, young adults and and adults?
Hmm, hmm, hmm, hmm, that’s a good question. Assessment tools specific to test and performance anxiety. I’m not so sure about that, But I That is certainly something that I can look into some more.
And if I can find any easily available Assessment tools for adult anxiety. I can post them on the blog, Or That would be awesome. Thank you. Sure. I really gate.
Great. OK, then I’m going to move on to another question.
So how do you know if your child is really experiencing excessive anxiety? I mean, what’s the what’s the median range that you really need to watch for? Yeah, That’s a good question. So, I don’t think that any of us want to have a kid or a child that’s not anxious at all because those kids are never going to get anything done and they’re never going to get anything accomplished. So, again, a certain amount of anxiety is appropriate and maybe even desirable.
But when worried thoughts or dread or fear start to interfere with your child’s everyday functioning, then that’s when I would want to assess and see if there is something problematic. So a child who, frequently seems fearful in situations that they probably don’t need to feel fear.
If they’re overly concerned about things where it seems to be more anxiety producing than you think is reasonable, if they’re having a hard time functioning, if they’re having a hard time feeling happy, and having fun, then it might be a good time to assess if you might want to talk to a professional, or assess their anxiety.
So that would be a good indicator, then.
Taking that to another, to two, to understand if it’s a big enough issue. Where you would want to seek therapy for your child, then depend on how much it interferes, If it interferes with their functioning to the point where they’re not able to function. Like a kid should. Like a kid should be able to have fun and be happy. And in clinical settings, when I talk to kids and I asked them, what are you looking forward to? Or what was your best birthday, or something like that? And if they have a hard time thinking about happy things, then I worry about them. And I think that that is something worth pursuing.
OK, well, we’ve gone a little over, but I think we’re going to wrap it up here. I want to thank you, doctor, for this presentation. There was a lot of really good, useful information for our listeners, And I’m going to hand this back over to Kelly to do a wrap up. Thank you all for being here tonight. I really appreciate it.
Thank you all for joining our webinar on anxiety and test Taking, There is an exit survey, which we need everyone attending to fill out. The webinar blog is open now and available for the next seven days on the … website, for any additional questions that were not covered in tonight’s presentation.
That website is W W W dot N J C T S dot org. Also, an archived recording of tonight’s webinar will be posted on to the site. Our next presentation, Self Injury in Adolescents and Adults, will be presented by doctor Selby and is scheduled for September 30th, 2015. This ends tonight’s webinar. Thank you, Doctor Martinez, for your presentation. And, thank you, everyone, for attending.