Apr 17, 2018 at 12:00am ET By Alyssa Walker

Know someone with an anxiety disorder? Read this.

What does anxiety do? It prepares your body for a “fight or flight” response—all the time.

This means that you may feel threatened by things that aren’t truly threatening to you, but your body perceives them that way—and then your body reacts.

In a true life-or-death situation, anxiety is a good thing. Your heightened senses and awareness of your surroundings can save your life.

In a situation that isn’t life-or-death but may feel like it—like presenting in front of classmates or taking a tough exam—anxiety can scramble your brain a bit.

How? When you’re anxious, your brain makes decisions about what to fear.

When you’re in “fight or flight” mode, your adrenaline levels rise, your heart rate increases, your breathing quickens, and your blood pressure and body temperature skyrocket.

This situation can make it hard for you to concentrate and learn—your brain will have a hard time processing new information because it’s focused on maintaining your “fight or flight” reaction.

Have anxiety or know someone who does? Here are six coping strategies:

1. Study efficiently

Don’t procrastinate. Don’t cram the night before. Make a study plan, with study sessions about 45 minutes to an hour each, punctuated by 5-10 minute breaks.

Need a study guide? Make your own or ask your instructor to help you outline one.

Stay on top of all your homework assignments by keeping a calendar.

Need help making a plan? Need help studying? See #2.

2. Get help

There’s no shame in asking for help. In super challenging courses, consider tutoring. Ask the instructor, your advisor, or your campus’s student services office.

Your student services office can also guide you to someone who can help you design a study plan if you need one.

3. Arrive early to exams

Feeling rushed or late will amp up your anxiousness. Avoid it at all costs.

Have a hard time getting places on time? Try this: pack your backpack the night before with everything you need and set it by the door. Prepare the coffee pot if you have to, so all you have to do is get up and get yourself out the door.

Don’t forget to set your alarm to give yourself plenty of time to get yourself together.

Then grab your bag and go.

Plan a realistic amount of time that you know you’ll need and make sure you get a good night’s sleep.

Don’t forget to eat some breakfast.

4. Think positive

Avoid putting yourself down. Negative self-talk won’t help you. Saying things to yourself like, “I’ll never be able to do this,” or “This is too much work” is destructive—and will destroy your confidence and performance.

Make a list of positive things that you can do and do well—give yourself a healthy dose of positive self-talk every day.

5. Take care of yourself

Your brain and your body are connected. You need to take care of both.

You’ve probably heard it a million times by now—and it’s true. When you keep your body healthy, your brain follows suit. What does this mean? Eating well, drinking plenty of water, exercising every day, and taking breaks.

One simple tip? Get out a little bit every day. Go for a walk, even if it’s a short one. Fresh air—even in the rain or snow—does wonders for your psyche and your mood.

6. Learn how to harness the benefits of anxiety

Here’s the weird part: some anxiety can help you perform better than none. You know now that anxiety is a normal, healthy emotion.

How do you harness it to improve your performance? Embrace it. Instead of saying that your anxiety is proof that you’ll fail, tell yourself it’s proof that you care about how you do.

Don’t let your anxiety hold you back—use it to top up your mental strength.

If you have serious anxiety, get help. What do we mean? If you have trouble with everyday functioning and learning, going to school and socializing, you may have a disorder. You can get help for that.

If your anxiety is manageable and you can acknowledge it, deal with it, and harness it for good, you’re ten steps ahead.

 

 

 

Alyssa Walker is a freelance writer, educator, and nonprofit consultant. She lives in the White Mountains of New Hampshire with her family.

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