Anxiety attacks can be devastating, but there are effective ways of coping with them. When I began grad school, my anxiety went from zero to full-blown. Fearing failure, I was unable to manage the stress of being a student and a teacher at the same time. One day, an anxiety attack forced me to leave class, much to the chagrin of my professor.
Looking back, I recognize those fundamental concepts that I told myself every day to feed me positive energy and ward off panic attacks. These “tools” allowed me to overcome my anxiety, reduce attacks, and ultimately succeed in school and as a teacher.
Drop the Imposter Syndrome
The first few weeks of graduate school were the worst. Staring at syllabi and books, the newbie feels like the biggest dunce in the class. Some people call it “Imposter’s Syndrome.” You convince yourself that you have somehow slipped through the cracks; you do not fit in with your smarter, more advanced peers, and eventually, professors will find out your true identity. This line of thinking slows progress and can make you feel suffocated. Recognize it first to stop it. I had to remember that I was there because I worked my derrière off in undergrad, and deserved it as much as anyone else.
As a hard-working, overzealous student, I compared my work to others, as if each paper or project is equivalent. As a teacher, I now know that every learner has different strengths and weaknesses.
Dwelling on how Jenny or Martha did better on a test may reveal their strengths. But you, too, have your own strong points. Nobody wins all the time in grad school (or in life, just look at lottery winners who go on to lead tragic lives). There will be times when you will shine. Martha will weep in the bathroom, and Jenny will cry her eyes out at home.
Everyone suffers at one time or another. I like to remind myself that my emotions make me human, and that everyone has anxiety about certain things.
Avoid Being Negative Nancy
Taking the time to congratulate yourself on a job well done can instill positive feelings. I like to use this energy to continue doing great things. I remember looking at a paper I wrote and feeling so proud that I had churned out 20 pages in minimal time. I also remember looking at my students’ evaluations and wanting to cry.
My own students said nicer things about me than I usually say to myself. Grades are irrelevant in the larger scheme of things. Feedback from your students, teachers, and peers provides a much more accurate picture.
I reminded myself that all anxiety attacks pass. You will feel better and happier at one point. I did, and I went on to start a Ph.D. with more confidence and less stress.