Managing Anxiety for the PMP Exam

I have been asked by several folks, “How do you prepare for an exam I ?” will let you in on a secret.  I get a little nervous when I am about to take a long test.  A four hour exam is not my cup of tea. I have a little ADD (attention deficit disorder) and I am not a fast reader. However, I have now managed to pass a few PMI exams and a 5 hour AACE exam. A big part of my methodology is having success with the management of anxiety levels.
In the weeks leading up to the PMP Exam, my anxiety levels can get higher than normal. As prepared as I felt after studying, I still felt stressed a few days before the exam. Granted, it helps to be under normal levels of stress. Nervousness helps with focusing and with thinking faster, so test-taking performance is improved from when I usually study. Thank goodness for that because I can have trouble focusing when I try to do practice exams at home. Then the opposite is that too much anxiety makes me forget and it makes me tired.  I do have to compensate to try to keep from getting too much anxiety and to keep from getting overwhelmed.
At least a few days before sitting for the exam
I start paying more attention to my body’s needs. I have been consumed with studying for a period of time and then I do some things that will predetermine my body’s health and focus during the important day.
1. Limit caffeine intake - Studies have shown that caffeine can trigger a number of anxiety inducing sensations like sweaty palms, elevated heart rate and dizziness. Coffee is great while studying for the exam, but I cut back a few days before. I already have a little anxiety for the exam, so I don’t need another cup.
2. Drink more water - Water is a beautiful thing. Not only do our bodies need water to survive but so do our brains. Research shows that the brain performs at optimal levels when a person is well-hydrated. Drink plenty of water throughout the day. Dehydration is another trigger for anxiety.
3. Eat healthy foods - Eating nachos and pizza while studying will usually leave me feeling happy and bloated. It is the aftereffects of those types of foods which I try to condemn. I actually do become sluggish. So, thinking ahead, I pile up on fresh, whole fruits and veggies that will sharpen my mind and reduce stress. Some of my favorite things to eat are bananas, carrots, and grapes.  I also like to eat yogurt and cereal.
4. Exercise – I like to get some physical exercise to work off stress. Physical movement can help blow off steam, reduce anxiety and loosen muscles while helping to expend any extra nervous energy. Going to the gym, riding a bike, jumping in the lake or taking a nice walk around a park are a good time spent.
5. Sleep - I get plenty of sleep the week leading up to the exam. When I am tired, I become less patient and more agitated. I will take the exam the day after I have had a day off or two from work so that I can make sure I have had 8-9 hours of quality sleep a few days in a row.
Day of the exam
On the day of the exam, I do like to have a banana, some eggs, and an energy drink, such as the 5-hour variety. However, I know how my body system is going to react after I have one of those things. I make sure to drink it a couple of hours before the exam to make sure all-systems are a go!
These are my experiences and lessons learned. Everyone has a unique body that operates with more or less reaction to the chemicals that we put in it. Usually, some tried and true methods, such as those I use to take care of my anxiety, will be generally helpful ways for others to try.
Paying attention to our body’s members is similar to project management. If one part of the body is slowed up, the rest of the body will suffer. To be at our best we need to maintain the health of our body and body systems.  

Author - Gregory Morrow

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Gregory Morrow