How to Manage Academic Anxiety
Are you wondering how to overcome academic anxiety? Or maybe you’re not sure if you or your child has academic anxiety, and you’re just looking for more information?
Anxiety in general can be understood as your body’s way of telling you about a threat in your environment.
You’re probably familiar with the signs of anxiety, such as your heart beating faster or losing the ability to concentrate or focus. In the case of academic anxiety, these reactions interfere with the ability to learn and perform.
When you are in the middle of the fight-or-flight response, it’s really hard to absorb information, make a study plan, or perform well on a test or an oral presentation. In fact, it’s darn near impossible!
While a little bit of anxiety helps to motivate us and do a good job, a high level of anxiety has negative effects on all parts of academic performance.
How you fix your academic anxiety will depend on how it shows up for you.
Are you mostly a worrier but do okay once you’re on task?
Do physical symptoms interfere with focusing at school or doing oral presentations or tests?
Are you distracted during tests because you keep checking the time or whether your pencil is sharpened?
Or do you have trouble organizing your notes or assignments, and that contributes to your anxiety?
Your choice of strategies will depend on which of these areas are bothering you the most. And just a side note: most academic anxiety is actually social anxiety, in my mind at least.
Generally, you’re concerned not about the actual work, but about how you will be evaluated or judged on the work that you do by your teachers, parents, etc. Guess what, that’s social anxiety!
Okay, let’s take a look at some strategies to help.
Do you worry in advance about tests or presentations? Do you find yourself thinking that you will do a bad job, fail, or do poorly? If your main problem is that you have a lot of worried thoughts, then your best bet is to manage those negative thoughts with cognitive strategies.
These can include cognitive-behavioral or mindfulness techniques such as positive mental imagery or disputing irrational thinking. If you’d like to learn more about how to do this, simply sign up for my free resource library at the top or bottom of this page! I have lots of resources to help.
What if your main issue if your physical symptoms? Do you find your heart racing or you have trouble breathing when you have to do a test or give a presentation? If this is you, then your best bet is to manage your symptoms with strategies like progressive muscle relaxation techniques and deep breathing exercises.
Study Skills Strategies
Is your main issue that your poor study habits contribute to your anxiety? If you find yourself doing a lot of last-minute cramming for tests or your notebooks are a disorganized mess, and this creates anxiety for you, it could be that you need to work on your study skills.
A study skills instructor or coach could help you with your planning skills, prioritization skills, and knowing how to break big tasks down into smaller chunks (with estimates on how long they should take) so that you start to feel more in control. If you don’t have access to a coach or instructor, you could also ask a friend who seems to have good study skills if they could help you work on yours.
Facing Your Worst Fears
For some students, the biggest issue that they face is the fear of not living up to their own impossibly high standards. This might be you if you fail to meet deadlines and pretend like you don’t care, even though deep down you’re actually just not trying because if you don’t try, then you can’t fail. It’s also you if you never complete anything because you feel like it’s never good enough.
What makes this situation worse is that you probably beat yourself up for not getting the work done. And not doing the work just compounds the problem.
What’s the solution to this perfectionistic cycle? It’s actually to just get something done even if it’s not perfect and hand it in. Then move on to the next. You need to start training yourself to calm those negative perfectionistic thoughts as well, which you can do with the cognitive and relaxation strategies that I mentioned above.
Advocate for Yourself
Are you the type of student who tends to “grin and bear it” instead of asking for help? If so, learning to advocate for yourself could be one strategy to reduce anxiety. And if you’re younger or your a parent reading this, being an advocate for your child (or asking your parent to advocate for you) is also important.
Ask your teacher for help with a rough draft so that you can feel more confident about the final version. Ask questions if you don’t understand instructions. If you have a mental health diagnosis, ask if accommodations can be made for you such as taking a test in a quiet room, doing an oral presentation as a recording instead of live, etc.
Get Outside Help
If you are truly struggling with academic anxiety or pressure to perform from your own internal standards or those of your teachers or parents, or if your learning is suffering and you can’t engage with the material, then you are living with a type of performance anxiety!
If you get stage fright when faced with new tasks or you know that your performance does not match your abilities, or you feel yourself getting anxious when faced with a new task, you may need some outside help.
You’re going to need guidance and positive reinforcement from someone in your life. Who could that be? Think about your options. Are there counselors at your school? If you are younger, can you talk to your parents about this? Most schools have multiple mental health professionals on board to help with issues like this—it’s just a matter of access.
Try thinking of one person that you could share your concerns and struggles with and ask for advice on what you should do next.
And if you haven’t already, sign up for my free resource library at the top or bottom of this page. As a subscriber, you’ll receive emails from me with tips on how to manage social and performance anxiety.
Related Articles about Social Anxiety
- School Supplies for Anxious Students
- How to Use a Stress Tracker
- Best Mindfulness Books for Social Anxiety