My first test in the University nearly cost me a lifetime success. It was Physical Geography, one if my elective courses.
Prior to the test, I was either in the library, the reading room or in my room, reading. Doing my best to be on top of my game. So, I had confidence of acing the test, but as the day approaches, anxiety sets in and knocked me off guard.
Immediately I entered the hall, my countenance changed—heart racing deeper than a drum beat. It was as if a pan full of hot groundnut oil has been poured into my brain—it was racing like wild fire, in short, my brain was blazing hot!
I kept fidgeting as my hands and feet could not help shaking and dangling still. Sweat bathed my body from the palm. The examiner passed the paper to us, “start!” she command.
As I opened the paper, my condition worsened—palpitation tripled, and the heating in my brain raised. My mind suddenly went blank; I couldn’t think straight nor remember most of all I read. The questions were not difficult to me; I’d read almost all but now, I can’t think nor remember majority.
I struggled to scribble something down on a very few after which I stood blank to the end of the test. My brain was blazing; I couldn’t think straight not remember anything. This was the very worse encounter I had with anxiety for a very first time in a long while.
This defeating encounter drove me to begin an intensive search on the connection between anxiety and reasoning. “Why did I go blank-minded and why was I devoid of reasoning when fear and anxiety gripped me in the hall?” In a little while, my eyes opened to the reality of this connection.
When you’re anxious, scared or tensed, you can never think straight. The reason is simple: anxiety cripples the nerves of your prefrontal cortex, part of the brain where intellectual reasoning and thoughts are processed; same way, it blocks the activities of your working memory where information, for the task at hand, are stored for quick remembrance.
When the prefrontal cortex is crippled, the brain cannot process information faster, meaning you cannot think straight nor reason properly until the anxiety gives way. Imagine this: why is it that sometimes you can’t remember the answer to a question while seated in exam hall but minutes after you step out of the hall, the answer comes to you?
It’s simple: the wave of anxiety has left and made way for the thinking brain to resume it’s duty. That is why you suddenly remember what you could not figure out while seated at the examination hall.
In his beat selling book, Emotional Intelligence,” Daniel Goleman writes, “when emotions (such as anxiety) overwhelms concentration, what is being swamped is the mental capacity cognitive scientists call ‘working memory,’ the ability to hold in mind all information relevant to the task at hand…When the limbic circuitry that converges on the prefrontal cortex (part of the brain for memory and reasoning) is in the thrall of emotional distress (such as anxiety), one cost is in the working memory—we can’t think straight.”
Tracking your thought is one great way to tackle anxiety. Because anxiety is built and solidified by depressive and weakling thoughts, our ability to identify and deal with those thoughts gives us power to deal with anxiety itself.
Now, what thought spiked up my anxiety during the geography test? Perfection! “You know you must get it all. You must be on first class. If you don’t make first-class, you’re going to be in trouble; Mr. Josh will be disappointed, he will feel bad and your intention to make his proud will be defeated. If you don’t make first-class, you’ll be defeated because someone else will surely make the list and you know how terrible it will be if you get defeated, remember you afford to accept defeat. it’s either an A or you fail!”
These were the train of thoughts raging my mind. I tried to take charge of the situation rather than focusing on the task at hand.
Now, what could I have done better? I should have countered those thoughts with the stronger opposite, like this:
“Calm down B, it’s not a do or die affair. You don’t have to kill yourself to make first-class; just do your best and leave the rest. Even if you don’t make the list, it doesn’t change who you are neither can it change the fact that you’re smart and intelligent, articulate and highly endowed” These are the words I needed to tell myself in order to calm my nerves and guess what, it worked for me.
These new train of thoughts walked me through the rest of my tests and examinations. Whenever the anxious thoughts begin to steam up, I quickly tackle them with my newly revised thoughts and then I conclude by telling myself, “ just walk into the hall and have fun!” Once you can change your thoughts, you can lock anxiety in its permanent place.
The Proverbs says it all, in verse 25 of its 12th chapter: “Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs it down, but a good (encouraging) words makes it glad (AMP). In other words, Anxiety, if given the chance can cripple the mind but with right, powerful words and thoughts you can kill anxiety!
In a nutshell, when you’re anxious or tensed, you cannot think straight; To overcome anxiety, identify the thoughts that fuels that degrading mood and tackle them immediately with a stronger, more positive thoughts. Remember, your thoughts determine how you feel and how you feel determines your chances of success or failure at a given task.
Author: Beatrice Mokwunye