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3 Tips to Manage Anxiety Before PT School Practicals

So, this morning is our largest practical in all of physical therapy school. I have 8 days of school left, which includes 2 practicals, four finals, and 3 assignments. This practical is for our neuro class, and is cumulative from the past 3 semesters, so it includes patients with TBI, SCI, CVA, ALS, Guillain-Barre, Myasthenia Gravis, CNS Tumors / Infections, Cerebellar Disorders, Vestibular issues, and Parkinson’s Disease.

Why is this practical so important to me, anyways?

This class’s grade consists of three exams. I did well on the first one, despite taking it right when I returned from the Combined Sections Meeting in New Orleans this February. I did pretty poorly on my second exam because I studied differently than I normally do, and I made the decision to not worry about my grades as much.

Unfortunately, if you were to fail this practical, your grade in the class would drop by a letter grade. My grade was already a C at the time, so if this were to occur, I would have needed a 90% on the final written exam to pass the class and keep my C. So, I was understandably nervous about possibly failing this practical and then not passing a class in my very last semester of PT school.

The morning of the practical

I’ve never gotten so nervous before a practical before, and I’ve been trying to find ways to calm my nerves. I’m crossing my fingers that writing a blog post instead of cramming my notes is a good use of time!

I stayed up until 12:30 am last night reading through my notes and reading a textbook for additional treatment ideas. Then at 6am this morning, my internal alarm clock went off. My phone alarm wasn’t supposed to wake me up until 7:30, but I woke up pretty anxious and couldn’t entirely fall asleep again.

My two roommates are 2nd year students and had to leave for class early to set up for the practical, but they made me breakfast before they left! I walked downstairs and smelled bacon and I immediately felt so much better.

Then, I took one bite of food, and felt super nauseous. I’ve never felt sick before an exam, so I immediately took a few breaths, and then laid down in the living room in a child’s pose for 5 minutes until I felt better. I also started texting one of my classmates, and found out that he’s been up since 5am because he’s felt the same way.

I feel a lot better now that I’ve meditated for a little bit, talked to someone else, and started typing out this blog post. Wish me luck, and I’ll update once I’m done!

The practical

I had to arrive 45 minutes before the practical, and we got our case 30 minutes before so we have time to prepare. The case is either a treatment or evaluation of a patient, and we get 45 minutes to complete the actual practical.

The entire 2nd year class are acting as our patients, techs, and family members. The graders are local physical therapists who have come for guest lectures, so their faces should at least be familiar.

I can’t give details about the actual practical, but I was pleasantly surprised by how quickly it went by and how I felt closer to a physical therapist than a student. I completed my practical without any issues. It didn’t go as well as I hoped, but I was well prepared and didn’t drop my patient.

After the practical

My nausea immediately disappeared, likely because my worst fears didn’t come true. Some classmates did fail the practical, but all had remedies for the situation and graduated without any issues.

About half of my classmates went to celebrate afterwards at a local bar, and then everyone resumed studying for finals. I went on to complete my Spring semester without any problems! I know that I probably didn’t get the grade that I wanted in that class, but I can honestly say that I don’t care about my grades anymore. As long as I passed and feel like I understand the material well, I’m happy.

Tips to Calm Your Nerves Before a Practical

1. Talk to a classmate

Your classmates know exactly what you are going through, so it’s best to speak with someone that understands your situation and can give you advice that has helped them. I spoke with another classmate that I knew would also be nervous about the practical, and it helped me feel better about my own feelings. I still continued to be anxious, but it was the most helpful to discuss my feelings with a friend instead of freaking out by myself

2. Write down your feelings

I know this tip may be weird, and it honestly feels a little silly to type this out right now. However, I’m so glad that I decided to start writing a blog post when I was feeling so anxious. Similar to the first piece of advice, I found it so helpful to get my thoughts and feelings out of my head. That way I was able to process the information and figure out more actionable steps to move on with my day.

3. Distract yourself

You can accomplish this in various ways. I found meditation to be slightly helpful, although it didn’t make my nausea disappear. Other things you can try include listening to music, going on a walk, exercising, watching a TV show, listening to a podcast, or playing with your pet. Even a 5-10 minute distraction can possibly help you relax a little bit and more effectively solve your current problems.

What do you do to help calm your nerves? Share your tips below!

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