Mind your mind: How to deal with classroom anxiety

Every human being on this planet experiences anxiety to some degree or another. University students especially can often be prone to social anxiety in the classroom and in other various academic environments.

Here’s a list of strategies to help cope with anxiety, more specifically while sitting in a lecture:

Pick a favourite spot

Where you sit matters, so pick your spot carefully. Personally, I've found that sitting at the front reduces the number of distractions and helps me get into “my zone.” I can easily ignore the hundred people behind me and I don't get distracted by open laptop screens. For others, sitting at the back may be more convenient. Picking a spot is all about listening to your needs and meeting them.

Use the Mindshift App

This awesome app, created by AnxietyBC, can be compared to a personal, portable coach that follows you everywhere. Designed for youths, it has an entire section dedicated to social anxiety and tips on how to overcome stressful social situations. It can also help you tackle issues such as worry, performance anxiety and panic. Finally, this app's main goal is to help you face your anxiety rather than avoid it. It comes with strategies to help you relax, and gives examples of coping statements that will help you develop healthier ways of thinking.  

Bring a safe object

Even though we're not children with teddy bears anymore, there's no harm in bringing a safe object with you, especially when facing threatening or scary situations. One good friend of mine wears the same scarf when writing an exam, while another absolutely needs a certain set of pens. Finding a “safe” or comforting object can help you feel more secure in your environment if the latter is unfamiliar. It can also give you something tactile to touch, which can be grounding. Everyday objects such as water bottles, pens, bracelets or wearing your favourite hat will do.

Make friends and study in groups outside of class

One thing I've found in big lectures is that it gets lonely pretty quickly. It's easy to feel isolated in a big crowd and making friends can definitely reduce anxiety. It will require time and effort, but making friends in class has many benefits. It reduces loneliness and friends can act as “safe people.” Developing friendship makes the environment much more agreeable and such interactions can create study groups and so on. Making friends will distract you from the mentality that you are alone in your struggle, and remind you that all students are essentially on the same boat.

Timeouts

For those of us with severe anxiety or anxiety disorders, sometimes the best way to reduce our distress is to leave the situation entirely. It may seem impolite at first, but sometimes leaving the classroom for a few minutes or going to the bathroom can be a way to cope with anxiety when it gets too much. Taking a mental timeout and focusing on something else than what the professor is saying can be equally beneficial. Sometimes I’ll eat a fruit quietly and mindfully, doodle on a piece of paper or indulge in a quick mindfulness exercise. As silly as it may sound, sometimes all you need is to take a few moments to just breathe.

Be willing to face your fears — head on

Finally, the strategy that I’ve found most effective is the following — overcome your fears and face your anxiety head on. It will be scary at first, but worth it in the long run. Afraid of speaking to the prof? Do it. Scared of asking for help? Show up to office hours. Afraid of talking to the people next to you? Do it anyway. You can feel your fears and not let them define you. You can feel anxious and still do the things that scare you. This is, in my experience, the best way to alleviate anxiety. It takes courage and a whole lot of hard work. But at the end of the day, it's possible to feel your fears and face them anyway.