Ever heard of the expression “monkey brain” or “monkey mind?” It’s a mental state that is unsettled, restless and confused. According to Buddhist principles, the human mind is described as having many branches with monkeys jumping around chattering and screaming for attention. One of the loudest monkeys is the “anxiety monkey.” (My anxiety monkey used to take over whenever I stepped on an airplane!) The anxiety monkey is hypervigilant and always looking for some perceived threat to our well-being that’s located in the future. He can affect us physiologically, cognitively, and emotionally, and is believed to result from an overload of negative thoughts, fears, and doubts. Anxiety monkey can be a high school student’s worst enemy when taking a test. He’ll tell your teens that if they don’t do well on this test, they might fail the class, maybe have to repeat it, their parents will be furious, their teacher will be disappointed, they’ll never get into college, and on and on. This spiral of negative thoughts can lead to mental confusion and short term memory loss.
I’ve worked with many students over the years who struggle with test anxiety. They describe their symptoms to me as increased heart rate, panic, trembling hands, sweating, upset stomach, and a sense of doom. Mostly they describe it as a sense of overwhelming confusion and “blanking” on concepts they knew going into the test. We need to help our teens understand that these are just temporary thoughts and not realities. Here are some potential signs of test anxiety that you might notice in your teen:
- Scoring high on homework but low on quizzes and tests.
- Feeling ill and not wanting to go to school more often on test days than any other day.
- Believing they can’t even begin their homework assignment without extra help.
- Suddenly becoming very exhausted or yawning excessively when starting their homework or taking a quiz/test.
- When asked which concepts they’re having trouble with they might say “I don’t get ANY of it.”
- Often describing a test as “nothing like” any of the homework assignments.
- Claiming they just “forgot everything” they learned when they took the test.
- Obsessive or counterproductive behaviors when doing homework or taking a test, such as checking the clock every few minutes and writing down how much time they have left, or being overly concerned with the neatness of their writing.
- The false belief that they aren’t capable of remembering what they learned.
As parents we can help our teenagers cope with anxiety. The first thing is to help them understand and recognize the symptoms, and how to get past them. Here’s a simple video that will help explain this to your teen:
The next step is making them realize their lives (and their relationship with you) will not be affected by their performance on one particular test. This can be achieved by taking a lighter approach. Our children can sense our anxiety, so we don’t want to inadvertently add fuel to the fire by being overly anxious for them. Lastly, don’t rely only on your teen to keep you up to speed on their progress in class. Check their grades online regularly so you can address the problem before it becomes a bigger one.
If your teen continues to struggle with anxiety, try reaching out for help. Their teacher or a school counselor may have additional advice or may be able to recommend an educator/tutor who specializes in anxiety. Remember, it takes time to address these types of issues. Anxiety monkey will keep trying to take control, but you and your teen can work together to show him who’s boss! 🤓