How to Deal with Anxiety When Learning

Anxiety: a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease about something with an uncertain outcome:
Anxiety accurately describes the feeling shared by learners in the early stages of approaching a new challenge; in some cases the feeling lingers long after the beginning and becomes a long-term struggle. I’ve observed anxiety present in people learning a language, learning how to drive, when sitting down to write, and when approaching countless different challenges. I have personal experience with anxiety and I want to share how I deal with this horrible demon.

Conquering anxiety as a learner is important because it can prevent you from achieving your goals and ever crossing the finish line; more severe cases can prevent you from even starting your journey. Fear of making mistakes, fear of failing, fear of not performing, fear of making a fool of yourself and/or fear of not reaching a goal are all reasons to start feeling anxious. You may have noticed that all the fears listed fit comfortably under the the umbrella term perfectionism.

I feel the need to make a statement about perfectionists, because I use to feel proud to call myself one, and most perfectionist I know wear the badge proudly. Being concerned with intricate details is a double edged sword, on one hand it can mean great work is consistently produced, on the other hand it can mean very little or no work is produced. I’ve suffered from sever writers anxiety. In fact, one of the reasons I started this blog was to conquer my fear of writing.

My Experience with Anxiety

When my anxiety was at its peak I would sit down to write and start to feel hot, my palms would sweat and my heart would beat faster. Describing the overall feeling as a calm panic attack would be more than accurate.

Whenever I did manage to get myself to write – often after days or weeks of putting it off – It would take anything up to four hours to lay a mere five-hundred words on the page. The end product would be somewhat satisfactory, however writing became associated with pain. I always felt satisfied when a piece of writing was completed; that feeling, and that feeling alone kept me going. Not everyone is able to push through anxiety so I consider myself *extremely* lucky.

It would take me forever to write a few hundred words because I would constantly comb through each sentence in an attempt to align each word as perfectly as possible.

In a frantic search to change this I tried a load of different writing techniques, but nothing worked. Giving up wasn’t an option because that usually makes me feel worse, so I continued writing the only way I knew how – painfully. You could probably imagine how I felt when having to face university essays with word counts of a few thousand – tortured

It didn’t make sense that I, a person who loves to communicate, loves to build arguments and constantly examines life, could not write without feeling uncomfortable. I dug further and I discovered through questioning that I was afraid. Afraid of what? I was afraid of not getting my message across eloquently In a way that represented me. I was desperate to write like scholar. I wanted to write articles that would impress. I was trying too hard to be something I wasn’t – yet. Unconsciously I wanted to skip growth and development and become the best writer I could be overnight. I did this by rewriting each sentence countess times, I really believed I could make them near perfect if I tried hard enough; of course, this couldn’t have been further from the truth.

I did write better sentences, but that didn’t matter because it took too much out of me and the fun from writing. Discomfort was the leading emotion and that made it increasingly difficult to sit down to write anything.

Overcoming anxiety

In my attempts to write better I forgot what mattered most to me – emotion. I had somehow forgot that I write best when I let my heart pour on a page so those who read could feel how important the words I write mean to me.

The day I let go of being perfect is the day I started to enjoy writing again. The best thing I ever did was accept that it would take time to become the writer I want to be. Learning how to capture the voice in my head on a page full of words takes lots of practice and countless experiments.

This was an important realisation; for me, this was the death of perfectionism.

Looking at Fear Differently

All I needed was a perspective shift; I now look at fear not only as feedback, but also as data.

Fear tells me where I’m weak, where I’m insecure and it jumps in front of me, stops me in my tracks and shoves in my face an opportunity to grow – something I now accept.

Fear is biological as well as psychological. I don’t believe fear can be eliminated entirely, however we can take control and not allow it to control us. Eliminating fear may seem desirable, but how then would we respond to danger intuitively? Fear reminds us we’re doing something outside of our comfort zone and aids us in developing tunnel vision focus by heightening our senses.

Fear is a biological defence mechanism which can be tweaked for optimal results.

The secret I’ve discovered for dealing with fear is not trying to banish it, but embracing it as another life teacher. A teacher who tells you what you don’t want to hear, but you know deep inside it’s in your interest to listen and learn.

Perhaps you’re learning a language and you find yourself afraid to speak with people because you don’t want to make a fool of yourself? Fear in this situation tells you that you need to speak more, tells you that you haven’t prepared enough or perhaps you haven’t …???

Understanding fear and tweaking your responses for optimal results will take you over the hills and far away (winner).

It’s ok to be afraid – It’s your right to be, but stay awake, stay alert and learn. Don’t runaway from fear, it’s trying to teach you something. Listen, respond and learn.

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