Normal Anxiety vs Something More

Everyone gets nervous before an intimidating and heavyweight test like the NCLEX. Of course it makes you anxious- it's a test where, if you don't pass, you have to pay another big chunk of money and you don't get to participate in your career field with the salary you deserve!

But when is it too much? Is it when you don't feel like eating the day of the test? Is it when you avoid NCLEX questions entirely and forgo studying? Let's talk about what a normal amount of anxiety before your test is and when to get help because it's something more.

This is an incredibly important distinction to make. Anxiety can cause you to fail your NCLEX, and it's actually the second most common reason someone fails, right after lack of content knowledge. It turns out that the amount of nerves or jitters you feel before you take your NCLEX can and will hinder your ability to turn the knowledge you've retained into correct answers.

Normal anxiety could be present if you are:

  • feeling nervous about the test in general

  • having trouble sleeping the night before

  • doing NCLEX questions and freaking out when you score below 70%

  • spending a few minutes having to take deep breaths to focus

  • feeling too nervous to eat the morning of the test

  • having sweaty palms or having your heart racing when you enter the test room or begin your test

  • leaving the testing center absolutely convinced that you've failed

These are all totally, completely, 100% normal. This test is a big deal. Nerves are to be expected and can actually help you in a limited manner by providing more focus and alertness as well as incentive to study.

These symptoms, on the other hand, are ones where I would encourage you to get help:

  • being unable to sleep or eat like you usually do, even 1-2 months before the test

  • avoiding NCLEX studying because it makes you nervous to even think about doing the test

  • having your brain "freeze up" the minute you look at an NCLEX question

  • getting an NCLEX question wrong because you couldn't read and understand the question due to nerves

  • losing track of time or even memory impairment when you get to the test center

  • tearfulness whenever you sit down to practice NCLEX questions or take the NCLEX itself

  • thinking negatively about yourself or your ability to pass in a daily pattern

All these traits are featured in test anxiety and are likely to cause you to fail your NCLEX if you don't get help. What kind of help? That depends. Less severe cases do well with support from a specialized NCLEX tutor or a community support program. More severe cases should seek out a therapist or psychologist specializing in test anxiety who can provide CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy).

Remember: if you were sick with strep throat, it would be expected that you take care of yourself, go to the doctor, and do the prescribed treatment to get better. Mental help works the same way: take care of your emotional and mental well-being by getting the help you need in order to pass.

Are you stressed in a healthy way? Or do you need assistance before your next NCLEX attempt?

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© 2016 by Lisa Chou

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