How to Manage Anxiety Using Mindfulness

By Robin Gluck on May 23, 2018

Manage Anxiety


What emotions arise for you when you think about taking your licensing exam? Take a few moments and consider how you feel, right now, as you contemplate sitting for your exam. What, if any, physical sensations are you experiencing throughout your body? How intense are these feelings? Are they insignificant or do they feel debilitating? Regardless of how you answer these questions, remember it is completely normal to experience anxiety in relation to this exam. What is always most important is developing an awareness of anxiety’s presence and possessing tools to manage it.

In this month’s blog, we are going to focus on using mindfulness as a way to manage test anxiety.

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is a practice we hear about quite often these days. You may have learned about it in graduate school and might even encourage its use with your clients. There is also a chance you have developed a personal practice or are interested in developing one.

So what is mindfulness? Following is how some experts in the field describe mindfulness:

  •  Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally-Jon Kabat-Zinn
  • Mindfulness shows us what is happening in our bodies, our emotions, our minds, and in the world. Through mindfulness, we avoid harming ourselves and others.-Thich Nhat Hanh
  • Mindfulness is the aware, balanced acceptance of the present experience. It isn’t more complicated than that. It is opening to or receiving the present moment, pleasant or unpleasant, just as it is, without either clinging to it or rejecting it.-Sylvia Boorstein

How Can Mindfulness Help In Managing Test Anxiety?

The goal of mindfulness is not to eliminate anxiety, or any emotion for that matter. The goal is to help you recognize the emotion’s existence and develop a more controlled and self-compassionate response to it.

Mindfulness can help in the following ways:

  •      Increase your ability to stay present and focused on the information contained in the exam
  •      Decrease ruminations that can derail you from successfully completing the exam process
  •      Increase your ability to refocus on the exam when negative thoughts and feelings arise
  •      Decrease strong and harmful reactions to anxiety
  •      Improve your overall functioning throughout the exam and help you PASS WITH CONFIDENCE!

How Do I Practice Mindfulness?

While it sounds so straightforward based on the definitions above, developing a mindfulness practice takes a little work. However, it’s completely doable and something you can and should integrate early on in your studies.

Following are a few different mindfulness activities you can try out prior to your exam and you can use, if needed, during your exam. Determine what works for you and make time to practice and build your skills. You will thank yourself for it!

  1. Breathing.

Sit or lay somewhere comfortable with minimal distractions. Place one or both hands on your stomach and continue breathing normally. Begin paying attention to how your body moves when you breathe. Notice how your stomach rises and falls with each corresponding inhalation and exhalation. If anxious thoughts appear, just acknowledge their presence without judgment. Do not attempt to push the anxious thoughts away; instead, notice them and then return your focus to your breath and body sensations.

You can integrate a mantra with each breath. Identify your own or you can look through this list and see if any resonate with you:

  1. Starfish Meditation.

Sometimes people find it soothing to hold and feel a smooth stone or texture of a soft object. However, on exam day, the reality is you cannot bring anything into the room with you. So, this technique is nice because all you need are your two hands. Spread your fingers wide on one hand (like a starfish). Use your pointer finger on your other hand to trace the outline of the starfish, moving slowly up and down each finger. Focus on the sensation of one hand touching the other. Again, if anxious thoughts appear, just notice them, and return to the sensation of tracing your starfish. You can practice this as a way to return your focus throughout your studies and easily access it on exam day.

  1. 5 senses drill

This is another mindful activity you can easily use regardless of where you are or what you are doing. Take a pause and take a few belly breaths to bring you into the present moment.

  • Sight. Look around you and silently name three things you see around you.
  • Sound. Listen to your surroundings and silently name three things you can hear in the moment.
  • Touch. Focus on your body sensations and quietly name three sensations you can feel (the chair against your body, the cold desk on your hands, warmth, coolness, etc.)
  • Taste. Notice any taste lingering in your mouth and name the sensations (maybe a mint that tastes fresh or a piece of chocolate you enjoyed)
  • Smell. Focus on scents, anything that may be comforting (lavender oil, calming scents on your wrist or clothing) and again quietly name them.

Once you’ve engaged your five senses, you can again take a few belly breaths to complete the activity. As always, it could happen that anxious thoughts enter your mind. It is okay and to be expected. Notice them and watch them float past you. Return to your activity without judgment or frustration.  You are building a practice and that is a wonderful thing.

The more tools you have to manage your test anxiety, the better. These are just some suggestions for mindfulness activities that you can try. It may be that you love them all, or you have other techniques that work better for you. Regardless, what is most important is you are practicing and building your skills as you study.

If you’ve tried to manage your anxiety, but continue to struggle with it, please remember help is available! Reach out to your coach to see if they can help or speak with a therapist about your concerns.

Of course, one of the best strategies to manage your test anxiety is to start with a program that provides you with direction, a clear starting and stopping point, and helps you feel adequately prepared for your exam. And that is where we come in. Learn all you need to know for your LMFT or LCSW exams by signing up for one of TDC’s exam prep program to help you prepare for your exams today! Amanda Rowan has helped thousands of therapists and social workers pass their licensing exams. Are you our next success story?


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