Guided meditation for test anxiety
By Becky Thompson
For underperforming students, anxiety around academic performance is incredibly common. When anxiety is running high, simply relaxing seems like a herculean effort, especially before a high-stakes exam. Last month, I walked the LAS staff through a guided meditation exercise.
The goal here was to equip instructors with a concrete tool that we can use to show our students – junior high, high school students, medical students – how to relieve their anxiety surrounding exams or general performance anxiety. Before we began, I asked the team if anyone had tried meditation but found the results underwhelming. Several hands went up. Difficulty slowing one’s thoughts down was an emergent theme. The following guided exercise is designed to relax a person regardless of past experience with meditation.
The first step was to visualize the colors of the rainbow; a simple process, but there may be some students who aren’t able to do this, at first. Some students will insist that they only see black when they close their eyes; so, they will need to visualize an object like an apple for red. Then continue associating objects like an orange, a lemon and a lime. To continue, they may need to follow with the sky for blue, blueberries for indigo and maybe an eggplant for purple. This process becomes easier with practice and the more they practice the longer they should be able to hold the image in their minds.
Next, is breathing. In fact, breathing deeply is the most important aspect of this process. The breath should come from the belly not from the chest. Learning to breathe from the abdomen has many relaxing benefits. The process is to breathe in through the nose and hold each for a count of three. Then breathe out through the mouth and hold each for a count of three. Students should feel their belly fill and empty with as they inhale and exhale.
Walking students through this process is simple. Just ask them to close their eyes and begin to focus on their own breathing; then count as they breathe in (1, 2, 3), then hold (now more slowly, 1, 2, 3,), then exhale (again, slower) and hold each for the count of three (really slowly now). Then add visualizing the colors.
An advanced step would be after visualizing all the colors to ask the student to imagine that they are going to her next exam. Mentioned how relaxed she is (and mention her breathing again) and then they are sitting in the exam room (have her focus on her belly breath) and again notice how relaxed she is. Finally, the test begins and she notices how relaxed she is as she reads each question. Have her breathe just a bit more and then have her open her eyes.