Breathing Exercises to Ease Your Mind on Test Day

College life can be filled with stress, from tight assignment deadlines to a busy extracurricular schedule — but one of the most stressful parts of college life can be taking tests. Some students experience a lot of test-taking stress, while others experience much less of it, but almost all students experience at least a little anxiety before sitting down to take an exam.

Adequate studying, getting enough sleep, and eating a good breakfast can go a long way in helping reduce your stress on test day. However, doing all these things is not always enough to put your mind at ease before an exam; that’s where something as simple as breathing exercises can help.

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Deep, calm breathing is a basic tenant of meditation and yoga, and breathing exercises are a quick and easy relaxation technique you can use anywhere and anytime to keep your nerves at bay.

The proper way to breathe deeply is to slowly and steadily pull as much air as you can into your abdomen, helping to fill your lungs with as much air as possible, and then slowly let it out. Deep breathing helps reduce stress because the more air you bring into your lungs, the more oxygen your body gets and the less anxious you’ll feel.

Not sure where to start? We’re here to help. Try several or all of the following breathing exercises to help determine which ones work best for you:

1. Abdominal breathing

Abdominal breathing is a great way to help reduce your high heart rate and/or blood pressure, resulting in an almost immediate calming effect.

Sit on a chair or the floor, or lie down on your bed or a couch. Hold one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach. Breathe deeply in through the nose so that your diaphragm (lower part of your ribs) expands and gently stretches your lungs. Breathe about 6-10 slow, deep breaths per minute until you feel more relaxed.

If you find it hard to control your breath, you may want to consider using apps that can help you pace your breathing appropriately, such as Breathe2Relax or Relax.

2. Progressive relaxation breathing

Stress can cause tightness and tension in the muscles of the body, which can make it more difficult to relax. The progressive relaxation technique is a great strategy for eliminating all sorts of tension throughout the entire body. Consider trying it the morning of your exam.

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Start by lying down in your bed or sitting in a chair and closing your eyes. Then, while taking slow, deep breaths, tense one muscle group at a time, one by one, and then relax them: the feet/toes, knees/thighs/glutes, chest/arms, hands/fingers, neck/jaw, and face/eyes. Think of your body like a stress ball from which you are wringing tension.

3. Equal breathing

Ever get so nervous the night before an exam that you can barely fall asleep? If so, you may want to try equal breathing. Equal breathing can help you wind down because it helps take one’s mind off stressful thoughts and distractions.

Equal breathing is simple. All it takes is inhaling and exhaling through the nose for equal amounts of time. Begin by breathing in for four counts and then exhaling for four counts. If you feel like you could breathe more deeply, increase the amount of time you inhale and exhale by a second or two. Don’t forget to take breaks if necessary; you don’t want to overexert yourself.

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By employing a few of these simple breathing exercises, you could be that much closer to an A on that exam. Why let stress or anxiety get in your way? You can overcome those obstacles — best of luck this testing season!

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