Why Everyone Studying for the EPPP Should Practice Anxiety Relief Strategies

Why Everyone Studying for the EPPP Should Practice Anxiety Relief Strategies

While studying for the EPPP, staying healthy is vital to your success on the exam let alone your overall wellbeing. Chronic stress and anxiety can negatively affect your health by “causing symptoms from headaches, high blood pressure, and chest pain to heart palpitations, skin rashes, and loss of sleep” per the Association of Depression and Anxiety of America (ADAA).

Because caffeine is on the rise, sleep quality decreases, and stress increases during EPPP prep, those preparing for the EPPP are more susceptible to anxiety even if they do not already consider themselves anxious.

In short, anxiety is a mental health state which generally causes fear, worry, or tension. It has several triggers, per healthline.com, which are likely familiar to you if you’re studying for the EPPP.

 Anxiety triggers

  • Stress

Stress, per the ADAA, “is a response to a threat in a situation. Anxiety is a reaction to the stress.” This is one anxiety trigger you’re likely experiencing in your EPPP preparation, especially if your test date is approaching.

  • Caffeine

When preparing for an important exam, such as the EPPP, it’s common to drink an extra cup of coffee or two for those early morning and late night study sessions. While caffeine is okay in moderation, it can lead to anxiety.

  • Skipping Meals

When you’re caught up in studying, it can be easy to pack study snacks and forget the meals that keep you energized and healthy. Skipping meals can make you more susceptible to anxiety.

So, how do you know if you’re experiencing anxiety?

Symptoms

 Keep an eye out for these symptoms per healthline.org:

  • Nervousness or tension
  • Feelings of dread or panic
  • Rapid breathing and heart rate
  • Increased sweating
  • Twitching muscles
  • Lethargy
  • Difficulty concentration on something other than what you’re worried about
  • Sleeplessness

If you experience any of the above symptoms, there is a way to manage the anxiety you might be experiencing.

How to manage

 Per the ADAA  you can manage anxiety in the following ways:

  • Take a break. Step away from your EPPP studies and allow your brain to rest by practicing relaxation techniques, mediating, taking a bath, or exercising.
  • Stay healthy. The trifecta to maintain good health is eating well-balanced meals, exercising, and sleeping adequately each night.
  • Limit your alcohol and caffeine intake.
  • When you feel panic, take deep breaths. It can even help to count slowly to ten and repeat as needed.
  • Laughter is indeed a great medicine. It releases endorphins and can ease pain.
  • Stay positive. Replacing negative thoughts with positive ones can literally detoxify your brain. 
  • Ask for help. Tell your close friends and family how you’re feeling and let them know how they can help you. If your anxiety is persistent, seek professional help.

Ultimately, preparing for the EPPP can be an anxiety trigger for some. Therefore, it’s important to know how you might be triggered, what the symptoms are, and how to manage.

Further Reading

Caffeine, Alcohol and Insomnia on the Rise During EPPP Exam Prep 

Brain Food: Holiday Treats to Boost Your EPPP Success

The Do’s and Don’ts of the EPPP Study Break

Use Gratitude to Detoxify Your Brain

EPPP Anxiety Part 1: Anxiety and Your Brain

 

 

 

Effective Communication

Happy June, loyal readers! Not only is June the month that it really starts to feel like summer, but June is also Effective Communication Month [1]. In order to start off the month right, I thought we could explore a little more as to why effective communication is so important in a field like ours.

First, let us talk about what communication really is. According to one publication out of Columbia University, communication is a task which requires at least two active participants [2] (unless we’re caught talking to ourselves, but that’s something different entirely). In the use of spoken language as our primary form of communication, we have been able to harness an incredible amount of information that can be transferred in an infinite number of unique ways [2].

Because we have just so many different combinations of words that can mean so many different things, communication can get tricky. Not only do we have an incredible vocabulary with which to play, we also have an ever-increasing list of ways to implement this communication—face to face, phone call, text messages, emails, social media, and the list goes on. Nevertheless, as psychological professionals, it is necessary that we have a handle on our own communication styles and any idiosyncrasies that may exist.

Where can communication go wrong?

Well, there are two major phases to communication: when the message is “encoded” and when it is “interpreted”. The first of these issues we’re going to hit on is when something isn’t “encoded” properly. Encoding is just a fancy way to say that you’re putting your abstract thoughts into a more concrete form—words. There are several different ways that things can be verbally (and nonverbally) encoded [4]. For example, let us say you were having a spectacular day. You could verbally encode this by telling your best friend “wow, I just had a great day today!” or “everything just went my way today!”. It could be nonverbally encoded through your body language, such as a big smile. Think about how you might encode messages in your daily life—you are hungry, so you suggest to your coworker that you all go out to grab a bite to eat; you don’t like someone that you went out on a first date with, so you tell them that it simply is not working out.

Since this is the first major phase, this is also the first major phase where communication can go wrong. The way that you put a message into words or nonverbal cues could be incorrect. For instance, simply selecting the wrong word by mistake can drastically change the meaning of your message. Even mispronouncing a word can muddle the message that you are trying to send.

The second major phase of communication is interpretation [4]. This comes when the receiver of your message takes the information that you encoded with words and works out their own meaning behind the message [4]. Continuing the first example that was provided above, when your best friend hears the words “wow, I just had a really great day today!”, they’re most likely going to understand that “Lizzy feels as though she had a good day today”. From there, the receiver or interpreter can attach other meanings that they are able to glean from your message, such as “Lizzy is in a good mood” or “something exciting must have happened at work today”. This process is the second half of all encoding processes, so you can understand how this might help us to draw other conclusions about the person with whom we are engaged.

Naturally, this phase of communication can create confusion as well. The interpreter is using the information that they already know about the speaker and the information being sent through body language and verbal language to reassemble the message that the speaker is trying to send. This message is then assigned meaning and the interpreter can draw conclusions from there. These meanings and conclusions that we assign to the partner in communication may or may not be correct. It is important to take each of these assumptions with a grain of salt, as the encoder of these messages might not be trying to communicate those deeper meanings that we are assigning.

Communication in a helping profession

According to one psychologist, helping professions are based almost entirely off our ability to communicate [4]. T. L. Thompson describes our ability to communicate with our clients and our patients as an “invisible helping hand” [5]. At this point in our careers, I’m sure you have already noticed your powers of persuasion and your ability to get your point across. Kottler suggested that some of these innate qualities may have subconsciously drove us into these professions [4]. On the contrary, it is possible that through our rigorous training we have developed these skills.

Whatever the case may be, it stands that we have these skills, and we need to be able to utilize them to the best of our ability in order to be successful with our patients. Kottler details why it is so important for us to have good communication skills—it is necessary not only to set a good model for our clients, but also to be able to employ our treatment strategies. Most (if not all) psychological approaches are based around communication and the use of words. One study found that most frequently in therapeutic dyads, the professional was the one at fault for the issues in communication [5]. With the blame for communication difficulties falling more frequently on the professional, it should only serve to further our desire to become better communicators for the sake of our clients.

What can we do?

As you can start to see, having a conversation or sending an email involves much more than just words.  Now that we know a little more about the actual message and how it can get misinterpreted, we can hopefully better address ways in which our communication can be improved.

Psychology Today published an article delineating three major, yet simple, methods that can be used to improve communication [6]. The first suggestion was to “be consistent” [6]. Being able to have messages that make sense together is extremely important for communicating not only with our clients but also with our peers and advisors. If we are talking in circles, or flipping back and forth between one thing and another, we are simply going to confuse our interpreter. Especially when working with clients, it is important to keep your message consistent. No one wants a therapist who can’t decide for themselves what should be done.

The second point to be an effective communicator was to keep the message clear [6]. In order to be taken seriously by our advisors, preceptors, professors, etc. we do not need to impress them with our word-of-the-day calendar. Rather, it is better that we should be straightforward and as understandable as possible when presenting an issue or any other message. With our clients as well keeping our message short and to the point is essential. They are not there to be impressed with our way with words. Instead, they are in our office to get the information they need and to gain insight on difficult life issues. They need our help, not our vocabulary.

Finally, Psychology Today suggested that being courteous in our words is the final step to improving our communication. Remember how easy it was for a message to be misinterpreted either through a simple issue in encoding or an issue with interpretation? It would be extremely easy for a client who is already depressed to interpret your lower affect one day as an insult or confirmation that you do not like them. Being sure that your demeanor is warm, and your message is positive and well-mannered is crucial [6].

With whom should I focus my communication skills?

So, to whom do we apply these fancy new communication techniques? Well, as a budding psychological professional, there are a few people who should be prioritized fairly high on that list.

Naturally, your clients should be the highest on this list. In the helping professions [5], such as our own, communication is often the key intervention strategy for our clients. Making sure that we are encoding our messages a bit more carefully, and that we are leaving little room for error in interpretation, as well as employing the “Three Cs” described above can help establish healthy communication[6] . Feeling as if the therapy room is an open place and is safe for sharing and communicating can help the client open up a bit more to you.

Communication between you as a student and your professors is vital [7]. In a teacher-learner dyad, being able to communicate is of utmost importance. Letting the professor know if what they are trying to teach is getting through can help the professor learn how to better convey the information. It can also help you as the student to btter gather the information that the professor is trying to pass along. Having open communication between professors also helps to build trusting relationships which can help you out later. Being able to rely on older professionals for guidance and for references can help you out as you progress through your career.

In the same vein, it is also important to have a solid communication with your internship directors, preceptors, or other training personnel [7]. In a workplace scenario, where you are still learning, perhaps courteousness is the most important of the “Three Cs” that were described above [6]. Being able to communicate your needs, while still remaining knowledgeable and conveying respect to those in authority is important [6].

Being able to keep in touch with your peers and cohort is also critical. Being able to build these connections that you will have for the rest of your professional career can only serve to benefit you. Opening up communication within your peers and cohort helps to create a solids support network of others going through similar situations and struggles as you. That can help you to find support or discuss coping methods that have worked for you and that have worked for others. Besides a support network, open communication within your peer group can help in your professional career when you are looking for referral sources, or when you need someone to whom you can refer out. Having these peers available as consults, referrals, and just good friends is all hinged on good communication.

Finally, keeping in touch with your friends and family (especially while you’re going through graduate school) is necessary. Even though it may feel as though you are drowning maintaining all these new professional relationships with clear and concise communication, it is important not to neglect your personal relationships. As one of my advisors frequently reminds me, just because you’re going through graduate school doesn’t mean that everyone else is. Make time to see your friends and family and make sure that they are receiving the message that you care about them and that they are a priority. You want to make sure that at the end of your time in graduate school, you have someone to celebrate with.

References

  1. Communications, V. (2014). June is Effective Communications Month. Retrieved from https://news.vanderbilt.edu/2014/06/05/june-effective-communications-month/
  2. Krauss, R. M. (2002). The psychology of verbal communication. International Encyclopaedia of the Social and Behavioral Sciences. London: Elsevier, 16161-16165.
  3. Davis, M. H., & Johnsrude, I. S. (2003). Hierarchical processing in spoken language comprehension. Journal of Neuroscience23(8), 3423-3431.
  4. Kottler, J. (2017). On being a therapist. Oxford University Press.
  5. Thompson, T. L. (1984). The invisible helping hand: The role of communication in the health and social service professions. Communication Quarterly32(2), 148-163.
  6. Bourg Carter, S. (2013). The 3 C’s of Effective Communication. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/high-octane-women/201304/the-3-cs-effective-communication
  7. Skillful Communication in the Workplace – Smart Psychology. (2015). Retrieved from http://www.smartpsychology.ie/skillful-communication-in-the-workplace/

Caffeine, Alcohol and Insomnia on the Rise During EPPP Exam Prep

Caffeine, Alcohol and Insomnia on the Rise During EPPP Exam Prep  

Are you sacrificing sleep for an extra hour of EPPP exam prep? Are you drinking more cups of coffee than normal? Do your weekends consist of more glasses of wine than when you drank when you were not studying for the EPPP?

A recent study published in the Public Library of Science (PLoS) shows that legal drug use, such as alcohol and caffeine, as well as sleep deprivation and insomnia, are on the rise during exam preparation. Alcohol and caffeine negatively affect sleep quality as is, but added exam preparation stress creates the perfect storm for poor sleep quality.

And poor sleep quality, or not getting enough sleep in general, can be dangerous. According to an article by Reader’s Digest,  sleep deprivation can impact us in the following ways:

  • A loss of 2-3 hours of sleep in a typical 8-hour night can result in performing similarly to if you had consumed 2-3 beers.
  • Your risk of fatality is increased if driving while sleep deprived
  • A lack of sleep can contribute to a lack in motivation and a lack of willpower

Not only can poor sleep quality and lack of sleep be fatal, but it is detrimental to your quality of studying. Ultimately, staying up that extra hour to study could be doing more harm than good.

The study published by PLoS obtained data of student’s consumption of alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine. They used the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI) to measure sleep quality in 150 university students before and after an exam period.

They found that poor sleep quality during exam periods and was directly correlated with lower academic performance. Alcohol and caffeine consumption increased during exam periods as well, which have a more indirect affected sleep quality but affect it nonetheless. Stress was the best predictor of poor sleep quality and decreased time in bed which led to an increase in sleep onset latency and daytime drowsiness.

So, before you stay up past your bed time for the sake of that extra hour of studying, think of what you are truly risking: quality studying. Instead of cutting into much needed rest, create a study schedule that allows for an adequate night’s sleep and appropriate breaks during your study sessions. Do not wait until you are mentally exhausted to take a break. Schedule both short, 5-10 minute, and long, 20-30 minute, breaks and take them when you have set aside the time.

Furthermore, keep your breaks productive. Getting outside and moving your body will rejuvenate the brain. Incorporate activities that requires less mental energy and are absent of digital distractions. Perhaps go on a walk, juggle the soccer ball, or even take a relaxing bath.

 

References

Zunhammer, M., Eichhammer, P., & Busch, V. (2014, Oct. 3). “Sleep Quality during Exam Stress: The Role of Alcohol, Caffeine and Nicotine.” Public Library of Science, 9(10). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4184882/

Weinhouse, B. Reader’s Digest. “America’s Sleep Crisis Is Making Us Sick, Fat, and Stupid. But There’s Hope.” Retrieved from https://www.rd.com/health/conditions/america-sleep-crisis/

 

Further Reading

 

The connection between your mental and physical health

The connection between your mental and physical health

One of the most powerful symbiotic relationships that are often overlooked is the one between mental health and physical health. If you have poor physical health, it is highly likely that your mental health will decline as well. Whether it’s diabetes, obesity, or another illness your mental health is directly affected. Regardless of your range of healthiness, you can make changes that will improve your overall health. Here are a few suggestions to consider.

 

The yin-yang of physical and mental health

You already know that there is an endless list of benefits of being physically healthy. From increased energy to longevity of life, there are more pros to being in the best physical health possible. You have the power to increase the possibility of remaining healthy. Your gut is a powerhouse that keeps microbes in your body in synch. Think about the last time you felt nervous. You probably felt your stomach churn. That’s because the fight-or-flight response in your brain causes blood flow to your gut to halt or slow down. This means that your physical body is directly affected by your mental health. One will always affect the other that’s why you want to find a balance that works for you.

Activity and exercise

Good physical health starts with being active. Whether it’s a walk around the neighborhood, going for a swim, or working out at the gym, keeping active is key. Have you ever felt bad after a workout? Probably not because you felt better and had more energy afterward. This is highly beneficial for your mental health. Being active releases endorphins and a host of other ‘feel good’ chemicals in the brain. This flooding of chemicals can lead you to feel happier, more content, and less depressed. This healthy step for your physical self has a direct positive impact on your mental health as well.

Food and diet

Your food choices can be directly linked to how you feel. If you are having a stressful day and not feeling your best, you may reach for carbohydrate-rich foods. It seems like a cliché but think about how the media portrays an upset and emotional woman. They show her crying and eating a pint of ice cream. Doing this now and then won’t wreak havoc on your body. However, continuing to eat sugary foods will impact your physical health through weight gain and the risk of diabetes. If you eat heavy carbohydrate food, it’s less likely you will want to go for a walk after dinner. Making food choices that involve vegetables and fruit can help both you’re physical as well as mental health.

How to change both for the better?

You start by deciding and committing to make a change in your health. Knowing you want to change your habits is just the start. You have to be willing to take action. This looks different for each person. The change you may be ready to make is to commit to increasing your activity each week. Your goal for change is your personal goal, no one else’s. Keep this in mind if you begin to compare yourself to others. Deciding each day what small changes you can make add up to a significant impact.

Don’t be discouraged if you don’t reach your goals every time. The goal isn’t perfection; it’s persistence. If you slip up in your quest for better health, you can start over the next day. Take time to figure out what makes you happy and brings you peace. Maybe it’s having a day off where you do something fun or creative. It’s your responsibility to do what you need to improve your physical and mental health. Once you realize the connection, you will want to continue to strive to live your healthiest life.

3 Ways to Rediscover the Joy on Your Path to Licensure

Many EPPP candidates admit that joy is hard to find during the study process. They experience a mental fatigue that can affect their attitude towards their career path as well as success on exam day. Although studying is likely the dominant factor in their mental fatigue, other circumstances can be blamed such as family trouble or stress at work.

Plenty of research on happiness has pointed to the fact that joy is created from the inside out as opposed to resulting from life circumstances. Therefore, to overcome mental fatigue and find joy, you must get outside of your own head.

Here are three ways to get out of your head and rediscover joy.

 

1. Be Healthy

Exercise is often the first item on the list that we sacrifice for additional study hours. Skipping out on the gym, however, can impact our experience of joy. Exercise releases endorphins, increases energy levels and oxygen flow to the brain, and ultimately increases memory and retention abilities. Consider exercise as part of your study routine.

Eating right is the second half of the healthy equation. Certain foods can increase your energy levels and help you focus. Eating leafy greens, for example, can make your brain function like it did when it was younger – sharper and more energized.2. Be Mindful

In short, mindfulness is purposefully paying attention to the moment. Because of our prefrontal cortex, we can observe our thinking and censor our own thoughts instead of falling victim to negative and passive thinking. Practice mindfulness by exercising moment-by-moment awareness of what is going on in your brain and body. Notice when you feel overwhelmed by EPPP study. On the flip side, notice when you are relaxed and experiencing happiness.

Mindfulness will come more easily with practice. Eventually, you may be able to tune into your emotions more quickly by recognizing how they alert your body. For example, perhaps you notice constant headaches and fatigue despite getting sufficient sleep. These are indicators that you are stressed. Through practicing mindfulness, you may be able to understand your body’s emotion indicators before you become overly stressed and eventually burnt out.

3. Be Grateful

Practicing gratitude can literally detoxify your brain. On average, we experience thousands of thoughts daily. Most of them flow into our mind quickly without us choosing to think them. Even if only a small percentage of our thoughts are negative, they can still number in the hundreds and affect our joy.

To cast out the negative thoughts, start by noticing them. Then, when you notice a negative thought, think about something or someone you are truly grateful for. Picture your beloved pet, your spouse, your child, or your career aspirations and achievements. Bringing yourself to a genuine feeling of gratitude will make the negativity vanish.

 

Further Reading

Exercise and Passing the EPPP: Why you Should Include Exercise in your EPPP Study Schedule

Brain Food: Holiday Treats to Boost Your EPPP Success

How Peace of Mind is a Skill That Can Be Developed With Practice 

The Three B’s of Mindfulness: Breath, Body and Brain

Use Gratitude to Detoxify Your Brain

Train Your Brain for Confidence on Exam Day

Exam day is often associated with anxiety. Whether the thought of taking the EPPP evokes negative emotions from test taking in your school days or more recent graduate school days, the anxiety can impact your EPPP test score.

Confidence on exam day is key to succeeding. So, how do you combat test anxiety and replace it with confidence?

Begin by understanding why the thought of test taking evokes anxiety.

Neurologically, due to your past experiences of anxiety during exams, the mere thought of test taking now ignites the feeling of anxiety in your brain’s cingulate gyrus, which is located deep in the cortex. Your brain has made an association between test taking and anxiety. Therefore, the two have been “wired” together in your brain and anxiety is now a habitual response to the thought of test taking.

To replace anxiety with confidence on exam day, your brain has some rewiring to do. Thankfully, due to the brain’s remarkable plasticity, certain associations can be reversed.

Throughout the Taylor Study Method process, you will take roughly 4,000 questions before EPPP exam day. If, during those practice questions, you stimulate the conditions of a test within the safe and relaxed environment of the TSM study process, your brain can begin to associate testing with relaxation or calmness.

In a way, TSM is providing you with 4,000 moments for your brain to adopt the habit of relaxing during an exam.

During these moments, you can actively practice desensitizing yourself to anxiety by going through stress relief strategies. To combat stress as it arises you might do a power stance, express gratitude, or focus on breathing. The more you practice stress-relief techniques and learn to relax during mock exam questions, the more your brain will remain calm at the thought of test taking.

Ultimately, by the end of the TSM study process, you will be capable of replicating your relaxed state throughout the actual EPPP exam.

And, as if reducing anxiety isn’t enough, taking 4,000 test questions before the exam has multiple benefits. Frequent testing improves memory and reinforces the information you will need to pass the EPPP. Practice tests can also reflect how well you understand the material before you take the test, so they can be an indicator of when you are ready to sit the exam.

The consequence of habitual relaxation during test taking, paired with increased memory and a surety that you’re ready, is confidence. And confidence during exam day is crucial to a passing score.

Are you interested in allowing our 4,000 test questions to help you combat test anxiety and pass the EPPP? Find out the many ways TSM can support you specifically to pass the EPPP.

For more information on how TSM can help you prepare confidently for your exam, call us at 877-510-5445.

 

Further Reading

 

 

How to Overcome Test Anxiety with help from the Russian Special Forces

It’s not what you think.  While the difficulty of Special Forces training around the world is known to be extreme, especially among the few who have actually endured it, what the Russian Spetsnaz goes through is on another level.

The stresses that such rigors impose upon those undergoing it would also likely be unbearable for them were it not for the psychological tools they are provided with to help them cope.

Where do these tools come from?  They are found within the Russian Martial Art simply known as the “System” or Systema in Russian.  While its core skills and training methods are believed to be about eleven hundred years old, it was scientifically refined into its current form in the later half of the twentieth century by Soviet researchers and engineers (think Ivan Drago’s trainers in Rocky IV).

However, the communist government restricted its knowledge and practice to only its most capable forces within the Spetznaz and KGB.  It was not until the fall of Communism that this secretive system was revealed to anyone outside of these elite units.

 

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Six Thinking Errors and How to Avoid Them

Research shows that much of what we experience in life is fundamentally ambiguous and open to a variety of interpretations. (For more about that, see our earlier article, ‘Gratitude as a Way of Seeing.’) One of the ways we make sense of life’s circumstances is by the meanings we ascribe to those circumstances. The problem arises when we impose negative meanings onto our experiences that are based on a distorted view of reality.

Psychologists who have studied human thought and communication have identified some common distortions or “thinking errors” that cause many people negatively to frame their experiences. There are many lists of these thinking errors on the internet, but below are ones I have identified as being the most common and relevant to everyday life.

 

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