Updated: Jun 7, 2022
Does the entrance turn on the faucet of tears? If you’re struggling with classroom anxiety, read on.
Junior Year of College
My heartbeat stilled. Hope began blooming within my spirit. It’s been 30 minutes. I haven’t been called on. Only one more hour! As per usual, I hoped too soon.
“Abigail, what are you doing?”
The 7 people turn their bodies to face me. 14 eyes. Undivided attention. The desks are arranged in a circle for a fishbowl discussion. Of course, I am seated at exactly 12 o’clock. The professor stands at 6 o’clock. There are so many ways I can answer his question.
“I was just closing my planner,” I replied. “I wrote down the assignment.” I open the planner to the day’s date and raised it for him to see. I have something to prove today. His face read as unsatisfied.
“And what is on your laptop?”
“Notes.” Now I am annoyed.
“Oh? What have you been writing down?”
“Critical writing theory, critical writing norms, academic writing norms, and the best writing comes from the heart,” I recite robotically. I flip my laptop so it faces him. If he needed proof, I got it. I see that he isn’t done yet. He still has a bone to pick.
“What did you think of the reading?”
My steady heartbeat isn’t so steady anymore. Thoughts rush into my brain. Why? Seriously, again dude? You got a bone to pick? No. I didn’t read it. As I told you before 3 TIMES, I have pneumonia. I’m on sedating cough steroids. On top of that, I got Narcolepsy. No amount of psycho-stimulants are going to keep me awake long enough to read- let alone comprehend!- your assignment.
“No-o-oo,” I shook my head.
After exhaling dramatically, he rolls his eyes. “Cool,” he sputters.
I shut down. For the first time, I feel the type of anxiety only described on social media. The “out-of-body” experience. Mind and body detached, I reach for my pen. Only to numbly drop it.
Enduring Classroom Anxiety
I’ve been in the classroom for 16 years. If you’re in high school, I’m not going to lie to you. I will not say that the professors will ignore you if your lecture class is big enough. Yah, I had 7 people in mine, but I have been in lectures with hundreds of students. And I have been called on. And I have nearly passed out.
Ugh. One more year to go!
Keep reading. I’m about to list 5 ways to cope with classroom anxiety.
1. Exercise the Vagus Nerve
The polyvagal theory saves me again and again. Especially in the classroom. I swear by it. Watch this TikTok to learn how you can use the vagus nerve to stop anxiety attacks:
This always works for me. In high school, I would print mandala coloring pages in the library. Whenever anxiety struck, I pulled one out of my backpack and began filling in the lines with my colored Bic pens. The colored pens were for organizing notes. Now they were multi-purpose.
The History of Mandalas
One of my therapists told me that mandalas derive from ancient Hinduism. Mandalas were filled in with colored sand. It was, and still is, a mindfulness exercise for Hindu meditation. The purpose of the exercise was to let go of stressors. The different colored sands represent different stressors. Hindus would visualize themselves letting go of the stressor as they watched the sand fall from their hand and into the mandala formation. (Or so the therapist's tale goes).
Whether or not the therapist's story is true, mandalas are a form of color therapy. They are great for reducing anxiety and stress.
3. The 5-4-3-2-1 Coping Technique
The 5-4-3-2-1 coping technique is a classic. It is also an extremely effective grounding exercise.
Here's how it goes:
Count 5 things you can see.
Count 4 things you can touch.
Count 3 things you can hear.
Count 2 things you can smell.
Count 1 thing you can taste.
This coping skill is used to give you a sense of control. You can control the things you choose to see, touch, hear, smell, and taste during this exercise. A lack of control is often associated with anxiety. Providing some control can help to reduce that anxiety.
4. Think About Better Things
"Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy- think about such things." - Philippians 4:8 NIV
Distraction is a great form of redirection. Redirecting thoughts onto better things distracts us from anxiety.
5. Write Down How You Feel
I often pretend to take notes. Instead of note-taking, I'm writing down exactly what is going on. As I write, I often identify what is triggering my anxious feelings. It might be something going on outside of the classroom, my personal life, or an upcoming event. Identifying the trigger helps provide a sense of control. Awareness is that control.
I hope these 5 ways to cope with classroom anxiety work well for you.
All the Peace,