First, it’s the knee starting to bounce. Then your eyes start darting around. After you start fidgeting with your pencil to the point where you’re annoyed with the sound so the people around you must be too. All of a sudden the whole concept of breathing is out the window and you forget how to do it. Have you experienced that before? Maybe it works in a different way for you, but that is how I experience a class on a high anxiety day.
Most general education classes take place in an auditorium. This only makes my anxiety worse. One of my triggers is safety or the lack of feeling safe. I can start class feeling completely normal until something in my head tells me I need to leave. My fear of shootings or unsafe occurrences at school contributes to my anxiety. Immediately I look for exits and possible points of entry. This seems a bit over the top, but I need to plan an escape route. By the end of class, I just pray to God and say thank you for helping me not cry.
Here’s a little list of coping skills I came up with to try to escape the anxiety of not missing class. Sometimes it works for me, but other times I can feel too far gone and end up exhausted. Try these out and let me know what works for you.
- Breathe. I preach about breathing to every person I meet. Let me know if you need app referrals because I got you covered. Breathing has been one of the most beneficial things for me. I normally feel anxiety in my chest and so being able to control my inhale and exhale is assuring.
- Ground yourself. My anxiety is starting to present itself differently in my body. Instead of just chest pain and dizziness, I actually feel physical pain. My heart feels like it will explode and it feels like I won’t make it. I talked to my therapist on new coping skills because breathing just makes it worse now. We discussed grounding. Putting your feet on the floor, feeling the chair, unclenching shoulders and jaw. It brings you into the now and lets every anxious thought leave. Here’s a helpful list to look through.
- Write I’m okay. If you say it then it must be true! Since it’s a little difficult to say things out loud in the middle of a lecture try to write it. Sometimes it works and other times it doesn’t, but it definitely is worth a shot. Saying it in your head while you write reassures yourself that you are, in fact, okay.
- Look around you. Sometimes you’ll have a friend in the class and other times you may trust your professor. Look at the people around you and see what they are doing. They are all relaxed, taking notes, and listening. Don’t stare and be weird about it, but just observe and watch a bit. Seeing everyone relaxed and acting in a way you want to act can be very helpful.
- Sit in a seat that feels safe to you. Depending on the class sometimes I sit by the door or in the front. I usually switch seats during the first week of classes to get used to the classroom and see everything. It may sound weird, but it helps so much! It also helps to sit in a seat that will make you the most successful. I sit in the front of the classroom in Spanish so I can ask questions in a more one on one conversation. In my Yoga class, I sit in the middle by the wall, close enough to see what to do, but far enough away I feel confident in trying new positions.
Attending school while battling anxiety is HARD. It never gets easier, but those coping skills help a lot when some days seem impossible. When nothing else works I just get up and leave. Some schools accept anxiety as a disability and help get missed classes excused, but others don’t. I usually follow up with an email explaining I was sick. School is beyond important for me, but at the end of the day, I need to take care of myself. If I sit through a class and exhaust myself then I can’t finish homework and study. If I go home, relax, take care of my mental health, then I can study and finish all the necessary work. Take care of yourself. It can be difficult, but at the end of the day, you have to make the decision that will produce the best outcome.
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