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Standing Ovation: Overcoming Academic Anxiety


CCPA Conference Halifax, Nova Scotia May 15-17, 2013 Nancy Buzzell, PhD. Licensed Psychologist, Erin Crossland, M.Ed. Canadian Certified Counsellor – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Standing Ovation: Overcoming Academic Anxiety

Standing OvationOvercoming Academic Anxiety
CCPA Conference Halifax, Nova Scotia May
15-17, 2013
Nancy Buzzell, PhD. Licensed Psychologist,
Erin Crossland, M.Ed. Canadian Certified
Counsellor Counselling Services, University of
New Brunswick
Standing OvationOvercoming Academic Anxiety
What do athletes, class presenters, performing
artists and thesis defenders have in common?
They are required to perform even when they are
nervous or worried about the outcome. If you
are not doing as well as you could when
performing in front of others, this one and a
half hour workshop will help. It uses sport
psychology principals to provide you with
practical skills that will help you improve your
academic, artistic and/or athletic performance.
Emergency System
Autonomic Nervous System (ANS)
Sympathetic Fight/Flight/Freeze Emergency System
Parasympathetic Promotes Rest, Calm, Sleep
Heart Rate Respiration Rate Blood Pressure Muscle
Heart Rate Respiration Rate Blood Pressure Muscle
Self Regulation (Volume Control)
  • Activation Scale
  • Relaxation Techniques
  • Self-regulation

Activation Scale
Use this scale to identify the level of anxiety
related to your academic performance.
The first step in managing your activation level
is to know where you are on the scale before and
during your performance.
Relaxation Training
  • Body To Mind Techniques
  • Deep, abdominal breathing
  • Progressive Relaxation
  • Massage

Which ones do you already know how to do? What
one is your favorite?
Mind To Body Techniques Meditation Self-Hypnosis
Place In Nature Visualization    Imagine a
beautiful place in nature, one you have been to
before or one you are creating for the first
time. Using all your senses, allow yourself to
really be there. Notice what you see, the
colors, types of vegetation, land formations,
wild life, etc. Now notice what you hear, the
sounds that go with this place, birds, insects,
water, wind, etc. Notice what you feel, the
temperature (hot, warm, cool), the feel of the
ground as you walk along, your body as you move
one foot and then the other. Notice what you
smell, the fragrances and aromas that go with
this place. Find a place to sit down and rest.
Notice how completely comfortable, relaxed and in
control you feel in your beautiful place in
nature. Bring in anything you want to feel
completely relaxed, safe and in control. If
anything inadvertently comes into your beautiful
place in nature you dont want there, simply move
it out.   Return to the room and your present
age. Gently and gradually alert yourself and
open your eyes. Look around the room and see
where you are. Really look at objects in your
environment to help yourself become more present.
Remember the beautiful place in nature, is a
tool that can be used when ever you want to feel
more relaxed and in control.
(No Transcript)
Self Regulation
  • Breathing
  • Visualization
  • Music
  • Physical movement
  • Mental cue or word

Each tool can be used to either calm or energize
Use these tools to help you change your
activation level to perform at your best. If you
are too up then calm yourself if you are too
down, then energize yourself.
Positive Self-Talk
What you say to yourself (self-talk) can effect
your concentration, confidence and performance.
  • Value yourself
  • Set realistic goals
  • Review your progress
  • Notice small improvements
  • Be your own positive coach

What You Think Matters
From This (negative thoughts)
C Consequences in terms of thoughts, feelings,
behaviour Im going to fail! I just want to
avoid the whole thing!
B Beliefs about event or situation Ill be too
nervous and forget what to say.
A Event or situation Class presentation
To This (positive thoughts)
B I want to learn to do presentations. Im
going to need to practice
C I may get nervous but will use belly breathing
to calm down.
A Class Presentation
Change the way you think and decrease anxiety
improve performance
Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTs)
  • Negative thoughts (worries, concerns, past
    mistakes) are distractions that can effect your
  • Negative thoughts can invade your mind like ants
    at a picnic. One ANT is not a big problem while
    more than a handful can cause real problems!
  • What are some of your common ANTs ?
  • Name one ANT you want to get rid of today?

Cool Headed Thoughts
  • When you catch yourself engaging in negative
  • Stop, take a breath
  • Refocus your attention to the task at hand
  • Change it into positive self-talk. Examples
  • I hate class presentations!
  • I want to over coming my fear and it takes
  • I never do anything right!
  • This job just requires extra effort

Smart Goals Explained
  • Specific Clear (identifies what, why, who,
  • Measurable Concrete criteria for measuring
  • Attainable Realistic and achievable
  • Relevant Important, applicable and appropriate
  • Time-Limited Establishing a time line for

Setting Smart Goals
Smart goals increase your confidence and
motivation, direct your attention to important
aspects of a task and help you to feel good about
yourself in the process.
  • Tips
  • Set goals (short term progressive)
  • Write goals down
  • Identify target dates strategies
  • Make time to evaluate
  • Revise goals if appropriate
  • Reward yourself at each step


Specific Measurable Attainable Relevant
GOAL     Get better grades/ improve
GPA                               Achieve Goal
by Nov 25th  
Task A   Improve Study Habits
Task B   Go to Class
Task C   Improve Time Management
Task D   Improve Sleep Habits  
Mental Rehearsal
  • Best performance
  • Stress reducing routine
  • Mental rehearsal

Best Performance
Think about one of your best performances in the
past. Remember the details especially your
activation level at the time. Using your
activation scale, rate your best performance from
1-10 with one being calm and 10 being the most
energized you could be. This number will now
serve as a guide for future performances. It
will be up to you to use self regulation skills
to adjust your activation level to reflect the
ideal or optimum level during future performances.
Best Performance
Do you need to be closer to 1 (low or calm), in
the middle or closer to 10 (high or energized)
for your best performances?
Stress Reducing Routine
  • Slow your mind and body down
  • Refocus your attention on what you are doing
  • Use belly breathing to calm down
  • Relax tight muscle groups
  • Use mental cue (word or symbol)

Use these strategies to get yourself back into
your area of best performance
Mental Rehearsal Tips
Mental rehearsal is like a dress rehearsal and
uses your imagination to create or recreate an
experience in your mind. Take an exam, class
presentation, thesis defense or artistic recital
and perform a dress rehearsal of it in your
mind. Use all your senses (see, feel, hear,
smell touch).
  • Find a quiet setting assume a comfortable
  • Start with belly breathing and relaxation
  • Recreate a past best performance
  • Create a future best performance
  • Use cue word to trigger memory of best

Mental Rehearsal of Best Performance    Rememb
er the details of one of your best academic
performances. Remember how you got ready, where
you were on your activation scale, what you said
and did during the performance and how you felt
when it was over. Use all your senses to be in
scene (see, feel, hear, smell touch). Now
fast forward yourself into a future best
academic performance. Imagine yourself getting
ready, using self regulation skills to adjust
your activation scale, what you will say and do
during the performance and how you want to feel
when it was over. Use all your senses to be in
scene. Give this experience a cue word so the
word itself will trigger your best future
performance (see handout).
Relaxation Training
  • Progressive Muscle Relaxation
  • (see handout for script)
  • Calming Technique
  • Sights 5, 4, 3, 2, 1
  • Sounds 5, 4, 3, 2, 1
  • Sensations 5, 4, 3, 2, 1
  • Name 5 things you see, hear and feel then 4 of
    each, 3 of each, 2 of each and 1 of each. Take a
    belly breath and feel your feet on the floor
    between each one.

Suinn, R. (1986). Seven Steps to Peak
Performance. Toronto Hans Huber. Weinberg, R.,
Gould, D. (2011). Foundations of Sport
Exercise Physiology, 5th Ed. Champaign, Il.
Human Kinetics. Williams, J. (2006). Applied
Sport Psychology. Boston, MA McGraw-Hill.
(2008, June 4). The science of stress Video
file. Retrieved from http//

  • Smart Goal Path
  • The Pomodoro Technique
  • Belly Breathing
  • Example of Mental Rehearsal
  • Progressive Muscle Relaxation Script
  • Five Minute Meditation


Specific Measurable Attainable Relevant
GOAL                                         Achi
eve Goal by (date)
Task A
Task B
Task C
Task D
(No Transcript)
Belly Breathing
  • In Breath
  • Assume comfortable position lying on floor, knees
    bent, feet flat on the floor or sit in a
    comfortable chair
  • Place hand on belly
  • Relax stomach muscles by gently rocking pelvis
    back forth (flatten back against floor or
  • Inhale slowly deeply through your nose and feel
    your belly expand
  • When you have inhaled as much as possible, hold
    breath for a few seconds, then exhale
  • Out Breath
  • Exhale slowly through mouth making a sigh or
  • Making an exhale sound helps open your throat and
  • Feel belly return to original position

Mental Rehearsal Example   
Im sitting in my bedroom going over my
presentation notes for class tomorrow. Im
feeling anxious and afraid Ill freeze and not
be able to remember my notes. I take several
belly breaths (relaxation skills) to calm myself.
I focus my attention on feeling my feet on the
carpet to ground myself (physical grounding
calming technique). Then I remember a best
performance from my class presentation when I was
in high school. I see myself standing at the
front of the class, wearing my favorite outfit,
looking over my notes, taking a breath to calm
down (self-regulation). I am at about 4 on my
activation scale (my optimal activation level).
I remind myself that I am prepared (positive
self-talk). I want to concentrate on what I want
to say and not my fear (challenging ANTs). I
remind myself to make eye contact with a few
people in the class starting with one of my best
friends (increase confidence). I remember
getting on a roll and how good I feel about
what I know about the topic. I remember the
class clapping when I am done and the relief I
feel about trying to do my best. There was even
a question I answered. My cue word is
concentrate. I see myself in class tomorrow.
I am telling myself to breathe and concentrate
on what I want to say. I will use relaxation
skills to calm myself down so I am at a 4 on my
activation scale before I start. I am wearing my
presentation outfit and look older and more
professional. I am following my notes and I hear
myself talking slowly and clearly. I am making
eye contact with some of the students in the
class and the prof. I take slow breaths once and
a while and remind myself to concentrate. I
am finishing my presentation and feeling good
about myself. I hear myself saying in my mind I
am proud of myself for doing the presentation
even though I was nervous.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation   Progressive
muscle relaxation involves tensing a particular
muscle or group of muscles, holding the tension
for 4-6 seconds, then relaxing the muscle or
group of muscles. The sequence of tensing and
relaxing is repeated 2-4 times depending on what
is most helpful to you. You can begin with the
feet and work progressively toward the head or
start with the head and work down toward the
feet. Find a quiet space where you will not be
disturbed. You can do this exercise either lying
on your back or sitting in a chair, as long as
you are comfortable. You can either close your
eyes or leave them open. Starting with the feet,
imagine there is a towel on the floor in front of
you and you want to pick it up with your toes.
Curl your toes under as if to pick up the towel.
Hold the tension for 4-6 seconds. Now relax and
let your feet go limp. Notice the tension flow
out of your feet. Repeat. Press your knees
together and hold the tension. Now feel your
legs relax. Repeat. Tighten your thighs and
buttocks by pressing your heels downward firmly.
Hold this position. Then relax. Notice the
tension leaving your lower body. Repeat. Clench
your fists and hold the tension for 4-6 seconds.
Now relax. Feel the looseness in your hands.
Repeat. Bend your elbows and tense your biceps.
Hold the position. Then relax and straighten out
your arms. Let the relaxation flow through your
arms. Repeat. Tighten your stomach and hold the
tension. Now relax your stomach. Place your
hand on your stomach and breathe deeply into your
stomach, pushing your hand out. Hold your breath
for a moment and then relax. Now arch your back
without straining, keeping the rest of your body
as relaxed as possible. Notice the tension in
your lower back. Use slow, calm breaths to help
you relax deeper and deeper. Continue relaxing
and breathe gently in and out. Notice relaxation
flowing into your body. Raise your shoulders
toward your ears and hold the tension. Now
relax. Round your shoulders forward and hold
this position. Then relax. Pull your shoulders
back in the opposite direction, hold, then let
go. Notice your shoulders loosen and go limp.
Close your eyes now and "scrunch" your entire
face making as many wrinkles as possible. Now
relax your face. Repeat. Feel the relaxation
throughout your forehead, scalp, eyes, and jaw.
Take a moment to feel your whole body relax.
Feel how limp and loose your body feels. Breathe
in and fill you lungs completely. At the top of
your in-breath hold for a moment, then let your
breath out. Take several slow, deep
breaths. Now use a body scan to notice any area
of your body that needs a bit more relaxation.
Tense and relax these areas. Allow yourself to
remain in this relaxed state for a few minutes.
When you are ready gradually bring yourself back
to normal by doing the following wiggle your
toes, fingers, feet, hands, smile, move your
elbows and knees, slowly stretch and then stand
Five Minute Brain-Training Meditation
Breath focus is a simple but powerful meditation
technique for training your brain and increasing
willpower. It reduces stress and teaches the mind
how to handle both inner distractions (cravings,
worries, desires) and outer temptations (sounds,
sights, and smells). Here's how to get
started 1. Sit still and stay put Sit in a
chair with your feet flat on the ground or sit
cross-legged on a cushion. Sit up straight and
rest your hands in your lap. It's important not
to fidget when you meditate - that's the physical
foundation of self-control. If you notice the
instinct to scratch an itch, adjust your arms, or
cross and uncross your legs, see if you can feel
the urge but not follow it. This simple act of
staying still is part of what makes meditation
willpower training effective. You're learning not
to automatically follow every single impulse that
your brain and body produce. 2. Turn your
attention to your breath. Close your eyes or, if
you are worried about falling asleep, focus your
gaze at a single spot (like a blank wall). Begin
to notice your breathing. Silently say in your
mind "inhale" as you breathe in and "exhale as
you breathe out. When you notice your mind
wandering (and it will), just bring your
attention back to the breath. This practice of
coming back to the breath kicks the prefrontal
cortex into high gear and quiets the stress and
craving centres of your brain. 3. Notice how it
feels to breathe, and notice how the mind
wanders. After a few minutes, drop the labels
"inhale/exhale." Try focusing on just the feeling
of breathing. You might notice the sensations of
the breath flowing in and out of your nose and
mouth. You might sense the belly or chest
expanding as you breathe in and deflating as you
breathe out. Your mind might wander a bit more
without the labels. When you notice yourself
thinking about something else, bring your
attention back to the breath. If you need help
refocusing, bring yourself back to the breath by
saying "inhale" and "exhale" for a few seconds.
This part of the practice trains self awareness
along with self-control. Start with five minutes
a day. When this becomes a habit, try ten to
fifteen minutes a day. If that starts to feel
like a burden, bring it back down to five. A
short practice that you do every day is better
than a long practice you keep putting off to
tomorrow. It may help you to pick a specific time
that you will meditate every day. If this is
impossible, staying flexible will help you fit it
in when you can. Remember, meditation is not
about getting rid of all your thoughts. Rather,
it's learning not to get so lost in them that you
forget your goal. Don't worry if your focus isn't
perfect when meditating. Just practice coming
back to the breath, again and again.
McGonigal, K. (2012). The Willpower Instinct.