How to Reduce Testing Stress for a Safe and Productive Spring Semester

March 2020

Standardized testing can bring on feelings of stress and anxiety.1-4 Students often suffer from poor sleep and impaired decision-making when stress is high, and may even put themselves in unsafe situations attempting to reduce stress.5-9 Below, we discuss these relationships and outline tools you can incorporate into class time to help students decrease stress. We encourage educators to share this information with students so they can stay healthy and safe throughout the semester, including spring break!

Stress and Health

Stress and anxiety lead to increased agitation, which often leads to decreased quantity or quality of sleep. Fatigue associated with reduced sleep produces cognitive impairment, such that it takes longer for our brain to work through decision-making processes.10 In this state, we may make poor or unhealthy decisions, the consequences of which may further increase stress, creating a cyclical, unhealthy pattern.

Students often suffer from poor sleep and impaired decision-making when stress is high, and may even put themselves in unsafe situations attempting to reduce stress.

Poor sleep and heightened stress can also diminish immune function, making us more susceptible to illness.11,12 Illness-related absences cause students to miss valuable instruction time, which compounds existing stress. During testing season, missing class time may result in inadequate test preparation, further elevating anxiety and increasing potential for students to seek stress reduction in unhealthy ways.

Stress and Risky Decisions

The decision-making process involves weighing the costs and benefits of our actions. When stress is high and sleep quality is impaired, we may fail to thoroughly consider potential consequences of our actions and increase our potential of making risky decisions.13 Although poor decisions can be made any time, spring break presents unique opportunities for risk and unhealthy behaviors.

Spring break often represents a time of partying accompanied by alcohol and/or drugs. This is especially visible and present for older high school students.14,15 Students may use alcohol or drugs in an attempt to decrease stress, but ultimately cause themselves more harm by doing so—again, further elevating stress in an unhealthy, cyclical pattern.

Supporting Stress Reduction

    Mindfulness and meditation help reduce stress.16 The following resources can assist with implementing mindfulness, meditation, or quiet time in a classroom setting:
  • The George Lucas Educational Foundation offers practical tips for applying meditation practice in classrooms.
  • Mindful, a non-profit organization aimed at incorporating meditation in workspaces for all ages, emphasizes benefits of this practice such as improving students’ behavior regulation and academic performance.
  • Mindful Schools summarizes current research on the effects of mindfulness meditation on brain development and stress reduction. They offer mindfulness resources and trainings for educators who want more information on using these techniques in their classrooms.
    Grounding techniques are another tool used to alleviate anxiety. Grounding techniques are often practiced in cognitive behavioral therapy to calm anxious or stressed individuals so they can process their environment more clearly.20 The following resources are worksheets that can be used to implement grounding techniques:
  • Winona State University’s department of Integrated Wellness offers a worksheet that walks you through three types of grounding exercises.
  • The National Center on Domestic Violence, Trauma, and Mental Health offers a worksheet for grounding, emotional regulation, and relaxation for both children and parents.
  • The Carrollton-Farmers Branch Independent School District created a worksheet for sensory-processing grounding techniques that can be easily implemented in a classroom of younger children.

Stress-Free Spring Break Ideas

Community gardens build connections by encouraging community members to spend time learning new skills together. Support networks created through forming new relationships can moderate high stress levels.24 The benefit of spending time in nature is also great for additional stress reduction. Visit the American Community Garden Association website to find information about local community gardens in your area.

Support networks created through forming new relationships can moderate high stress levels.

Local libraries often offer free activities open to the community. Simply spending quiet time in a library creates a productive, mindful space in which to calm anxiety. For example, the San Marcos Public Library offers a Story Time, a Teen Advisory Board meeting, a Book Club, a LEGO Mania Club, and crafts for a variety of age groups.27 Visit the USAGov Libraries and Archives website to find your local library.

Get outside. Sunshine and fresh air substantially reduce stress. Hiking, biking, or simply eating meals outside with family or friends can help increase vitamin D levels that elevate mood and fortify your immune system. This edition of the Harvard Health Letter explains why spending time outside is a great antidote for testing stress.


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