How to Handle MBA Admissions Anxiety

Chillax! Worrying won't get you into your top B-school pick, but these tips may help you pass the time Photograph by Glen Wexler/Gallery Stock

‘Tis the season for pulling out your hair as you anxiously await word on whether or not you got into your dream MBA program. You’ve taken to the Business School Forums to share either hope or disgust with your chances. You’re checking your e-mail every five minutes. And you might be experiencing cold sweats, heart palpitations, even insomnia. Still, you’d like to regain control of your life, keep your mind off possible rejection, and maybe enjoy the holidays. It’s not impossible, says Edward A. Charlesworth, a clinical psychologist in Houston and co-author of Stress Management: A Comprehensive Guide to Wellness (Ballantine Books, revised 2004). Take a few deep breaths and consider Charlesworth’s suggestions for reducing dreaded admissions anxiety:

1. Get physical
Put on those leg warmers and get to the gym. Maintaining an exercise routine will help you to reduce stress and avoid depression, Charlesworth says. He also suggests performing relaxation exercises, which might sound nerdy and far out but could help bring your heart rate back to a normal level. For starters, you can try progressive muscle relaxation, a method that is more than 60 years old and has people applying tension to one muscle group at a time while inhaling, releasing that tension while exhaling, and focusing on the muscle relaxation all the while. Either start from the top of your body or the bottom of your body, Charlesworth says. If you start from the top, you would deliberately tense up your forehead, relax the muscles in your forehead, and think, “Relax and let go.” Then move on to other muscles in the face and continue moving downward. (If you search Charlesworth on iTunes, you will find recordings on how to do this.)

2.  Find your happy place
This one definitely sounds corny, but Charlesworth says it is a good way to relax the mind. As you’re exercising or performing a relaxation technique,  focus on whatever it is that you find personally relaxing. For some, being by the water and listening to the waves can be soothing, whereas someone else might envision curling up in a cozy bed.

3. Think acceptance
Visualize yourself as you receive word from the MBA program. Picture yourself being relaxed and learning that you have been accepted. “Rehearse succeeding,” Charlesworth suggests. “Never rehearse failing.” In fact, you should copy professional athletes and noteworthy public speakers, who are always focusing on the positive. That means that you have to avoid “catastrophizing,” which is what people do when they magnify small things and turn them into catastrophes when they’re really just minor disappointments. In other words, the world won’t come to an end if you don’t get into Harvard Business School. Trust us.

4. Tolerate the outcome, whatever it is
Some people will not get into their dream school. That’s a fact and it’s fine. You have to keep in mind that you will get into an MBA program or you will end up doing whatever it is that you’re supposed to be doing. The rejection is probably a good thing. Charlesworth recalls that he was ready to go to a graduate program in Hawaii, and he was rejected. It was a good thing, he says, because he could not afford it and it was merely a fantasy. He used the money he had saved to buy property where he did end up going to grad school. The lesson? Rejection isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

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