Today a college student came to see me for the first time. She is having a lot of trouble with tests. She studies hard, but a few days before the test a mounting self-doubt takes over and by the night before a test her head is whirling around, she’s tossing and turning in anxiety and she can’t sleep. She’s consumed with thoughts that she won’t pass, and that doing poorly will shoot her chances to get into a good graduate school. As she spoke I noticed a few things…..
First, just listening to her language, I could tell that she was not grounding herself in the present. “I’m going to fail,” “I won’t get into a good graduate program.” A lot of “future forecasting,” no? As we spoke I noticed some other things. Though she was sitting in a chair and her feet were able to rest comfortably on the floor, they weren’t. She was on her toes. I was also struck with how often she was holding her breath.
As I pointed all of these things out to her she became more aware of what she was doing as a matter of habit. All this showed her that she was not being in the present but kept launching herself into a very uncertain future.
Stress is a function of disconnection. In body, mind and spirit. She was disconnecting in all three: her body was tense (no breath, perched toes), she held her breath, she was obsessing about the future. She forecast a negative performance, and she was distracted by all of this– in other words it became harder and harder for her to stay in the present and just study.
As we spoke she became aware of how often she disconnected from the present, and she began to see that each time she disconnected — in all the ways mentioned or described above– she became anxious.
We believe that we are anxious because we’re thinking we’re going to fail. Well, yes and no. A thought in and of itself is not anxiety provoking. It’s just a thought and thoughts come and go What happens though is we keep following the thought and lose touch with the present, the here and now. This is the time and place for her to study. Instead she disconnects by imagining the future.
If this happen to you, do what I coached her to do: come back to the present. Use your breath. Feel your feet on the floor. Look around and open your sense to what is there right here and right now.
Then you’ll be training yourself for the test: when the only place to be if you want to score well is in the present answering the questions
Let me know the ways you find yourself launching out of the present, and which tools you use to bring yourself back. If you’re not sure which tools you can use, please ask! I’m happy to coach you.