Understanding Anxiety

Understanding Anxiety

Not everyone finds it easy to peak under pressure. I see many students  who perform well week in, week out, but put themselves through enormous, and unnecessary, stress to do so.

Anxiety and stress are hard-wired in our bodies. They can help us to hit our peak levels of performance, but only if they don’t become overwhelming. Here are a few types of anxiety and how we might manage them to a level that is helpful;

All or Nothingers
This person succumbs to dichotomous or perfectionist thinking; everything is either right or wrong. If they make one mistake in their homework they might tear it up and start all over again. Mistakes are of course an essential part of deep learning; the more they make in day to day lessons, the less likely they are to make them later on.

This person imagines the worst possible outcome; “I’m going to fail all my exams, I’ll forget all my lines when the curtain goes up”. And yet if we can help them reflect on their experience to date, the opposite is far more likely to have been true.

Ignorers of the Positive
Ever taught anyone who struggles to celebrate success? “Anyone could have done that / it was too easy / it was pure luck etc”. This type of anxiety can really wear down self esteem and resilience so we should challenge students who don’t naturally enjoy it when things have gone well. It also creates positive neural pathways and endorphins to encourage us to seek more success.

Should havers
Ever started your marking at the weekend and within ten minutes your inner voice chirps up with “should have started earlier / done more by now / be writing more” etc.? Of course you could have, but we are not robots. You would go crazy thinking about how inefficient we can be, so accept it and just focus on what’s in front of you, one thing at a time.

Rationalising your fears isn’t about denying their existence, or trying to eliminate them. It is about embracing anxiety as evidence that we are only human after all…

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