It’s school time again and whether you are young in practice or young at heart, you may find yourself in situations which increase stress and put pressure on those of us who suffer from anxiety.
There is a difference between being anxious and having an anxiety disorder. It is completely normal to react to stress with nervous or apprehensive feelings. Anxiety disorders are more extreme and can manifest in a variety of ways. There are physical signs, like rapid heart rate, shortness of breath, dizziness, sweating, upset stomach, etc., which can culminate into panic or anxiety attacks. Mental or emotional indications include increased irritability, fearing the worst outcome in most situations, feelings of dread, and other such thoughts.
I will address some of the preliminary-level stressors in school and university that could affect those who struggle with general anxiety, but I hope my advice is applicable to other varieties of anxiety as well.
1. Group Projects
We’ve all experienced them and most of us hate them: the dreaded group project. In theory, everything should be fine. Work gets divided, everyone does their share, all is well— except that’s never how it works. More often than not, someone doesn’t do their work. Someone else may try, but the quality isn’t great and you’re left doing everything on your own. Part of the stress comes from being put into a group of people you aren’t used to. The other stressor is making sure everything gets done to the standard at which you would complete your work.
In my freshman year of college, I was in a class with mostly upperclassmen. I had a group project instead of a final exam and I did the whole thing. There were two older other guys in my group and neither did any of the work. I emailed, texted, tried to talk to them in class, and still I wrote the whole fifteen page paper. Part of the stress wasn’t the work, it was trying to contact my team. I wished I hadn’t had to work in a group, but unfortunately group work is a part of life.
I’ve learned that if you inquire in a nice way, it’s okay to ask people how their part of the project is coming along or offer suggestions. It’s when you fully offer your help that you can be taken advantage of. Make a plan or schedule, do your part, keep track of who is doing what, and maybe talk to your teacher or professor about doing group peer evaluations after projects so all team members feel more obligated to participate.
2. There’s always more work
When it comes to tests, studying, or extracurriculars, it can feel like there’s always more work to do. Sure, you’ve studied, you know the material, but could it hurt to review one more time? Should you edit that paper for the fifth time or go to bed? How many clubs is too many clubs?
This one is often my downfall. This year alone I am: overloading credits, in my last year of undergrad with two majors, the president of one club, officer of another, an officer of the honors society, and on a council to advise the dean of the business school. I don’t know when to stop. It gets to the point that I can’t do things I enjoy. It’s hard to have a social life when there’s so much to do for classes and extracurriculars. I’m pretty much always stressed out and every day I wonder why I do this to myself. I enjoy what I do, but doing too much isn’t healthy.
There comes a point when it’s hard to distinguish a stopping point with work. You want to succeed, to have good grades, to be able to put clubs and leadership positions on your resume. You may not want to hang out with friends or participate in fun after-class or weekend activities because you want to get ahead or go over your paper again. There’s just too much pressure.
You should take a break from your work every 52 minutes if you want to be the most productive. This is a random number, but it is said to work. It’s hard to stop and come back, but take a break. Do something fun with your friends that won’t take up a whole day so you don’t get overly stressed. Make a schedule or an interactive calendar and add in time for fun! You and I both also have to admit that we are human and have limitations. Only take on those things you can finish and put real effort into.
3. Fear of forgetting work
This one has existed for me since elementary school. I was always afraid that I’d walk into class and the teacher would ask us to take out some assignment I didn’t know we had. Now I take notes in class if my professor asks for something, I check the syllabus and online postings, but I’m still afraid that somehow I’m going to walk in unprepared, my grade will drop and I’ll look stupid.
The best advice I can give is to do what you probably already do, ask someone in your class. If that person doesn’t know and you don’t want to ask your teacher for fear your peers will be annoyed, wait until the end of class. Let everyone leave first and then ask for clarification. If you don’t feel comfortable with that, there’s always email! You would likely have to do the work at some point anyway, and it’s better to know and have to complete the assignment than worry about it.
I just mentioned that emailing your professor or teacher is a good option if you have a question, and it is, but sometimes composing those emails can be rather stressful.
I distinctly remember an email my friend and I composed to one of our professors. It took us over an hour to write three sentences and it was probably the strangest email he has ever received. Our question was in relation to a reading he said he had posted online that we couldn’t find. We wanted to get our point across and ask our question without being insulting or accusatory. We are also really weird and wanted some personality in the message without it getting too strange.
When emailing a professor, be formal and considerate, but also direct. Say what you need to say and close with consideration. Here is an example:
“Hello Dr. Martin,
I hope this email finds you well.
I have been working on the Annotated Bibliography and have found some really useful sources. I was wondering if it would be a problem to use two sources that share an author. If you want all unique writers and contributors, I can look for another source.
Talking to people who could sway your direction in life is intimidating. Whether it’s a talent scout, potential employer, or someone who works in the field you are interested in, putting yourself out there and sharing your accomplishments may put you in an uncomfortable situation. You don’t want to ask too much of someone, but you want to be memorable enough to achieve whatever goal you set forth form that interaction.
I went to a business networking event where I had to make myself stand out from sixty other college students in the room. It was hard because every individual from every company that attends can be looking for a different quality in a potential new hire. I was really nervous and other people talked more than I did. Then, I sat at a table with representatives from the company where my mom works. I legally can’t work there while she does, so I felt no pressure to act a certain way because I knew it wouldn’t matter. I was professional, but I also wasn’t afraid to answer questions or make an appropriate joke. They later told me I was the most memorable person with whom they spoke.
Dress professionally and research the companies you are interested in, but ultimately the best thing you can do in these situations is to be yourself. Laugh, smile, make a joke if you want. Sometimes you can be the most memorable person by you showing that you are a person, not a just resume or a transcript.
As we get older, we progress through stages of life that once seemed distant and scary. This is not to say that that life gets less scary, but we take it one day at a time and we figure things out. The journey can be fun, unexpected, and challenging all at once. We need people in our lives who have our best interests at heart and are willing to stand by us when the harder days come around.
I’m nearly done college. That alone is terrifying because I’ve been in school for most of my life. I have no idea what comes next. My best friend and I are probably going to move to England in May which means I need to find a job over there while I’m in Pennsylvania trying to finish up and get my degrees. The not knowing is scary. I don’t know what happens now, so how can I know I’m making the right choice?
I don’t think there is such a thing as one right choice to lead you to a good life. There are definitely bad choices, criminal choices, that I am not recommending or condoning, but the normal ones, the ones that you make when you look for a job or a new place to live, those can’t be wrong. Every choice you make changes who you are a little bit. They change your perspectives and, perhaps, your destination. Even if a decision doesn’t lead where you had hoped or plans goes awry, it doesn’t make that choice bad. As hard as it may be, keep on moving, even if you’re not sure where you’re going. Sure look, it’ll be grand.
What do you think? Are there any other situations in school that make you feel especially anxious? Comment below!