An image of a busy hallway and staircase outside a classroom in the Pharmacy Building.

Coping With Anxiety About New Classes

The new semester has just started, and for a lot of us that means a whole new set of classes. On one hand, great, because new classes means new things to learn. On the other hand, it’s all the nerves of the first day of school repeated again. On a good day, I still get pretty anxious about going to class. So many things rush through my head that it can feel like I'm spinning in circles. It's not fun, but I've learned some ways of coping with these feelings that make it possible for me to go to class without getting so overwhelmed. It used to be worse than this for me- I would work myself into a panic at just the thought of walking to class, but with the right combination of help, I’ve learned how to make walking to class, and class itself, much more manageable. However, this all changes on the first day, particularly because of one thing: new things are unknown, and unknown is terrifying. What if the doors are at the front of the room? What if I'm late and the professor and students hate me? What if the professor calls on people in class? What if I know people in the class? What if I don't? Pair these hot thoughts with every other worry that goes through my head, and you An image of a busy hallway and staircase outside a classroom in the Pharmacy Building.have a recipe for a walking, talking disaster. Yes, disaster. You clearly haven’t seen me on the first day of a new class. Anyway, as I’ve said, things have changed quite a bit between first year and now. But it took a lot of work- there’s a fine line between coping with anxiety, and avoiding the things that make you anxious. As you probably know, avoidance is not great- it can even function to reinforce those anxious feelings. So when your strategy for not bothering people is by arriving 30 minutes early, is this a healthy way to cope, or a way to avoid dealing with my worries? Here are my thoughts: on the first day, it’s totally fine. The amount of good it can do to give yourself some quiet time to grow accustomed to a classroom is undeniable, especially if you’re like me and need moments of internal isolation to figure out what’s going on around you. When you start doing this every day, and it gets in the way of doing other things, it might be an option to meet with somebody and figure out alternate coping options (If anybody is interested, I can post some resources in the comments section). Even so, getting there early isn’t always an option for people; I have a new class in thirty minutes, and I’m currently sitting in another class (okay, maybe I’m not paying attention, it can be hard to focus when you're worrying about the near future... Another reason why this is important). So when getting there early isn’t an option, what can you do? And what can you do in the later days when getting there early isn't necessarily a healthy coping mechanism? Here are some of my tips and tricks that I’ve learned over the years. They don’t always work, but when it comes to coping mechanisms, oftentimes something is better than nothing.
  1. Breathing
    1. We’ve all heard it before- deep breathing. What I like to do is breathe in for 4 counts, out for 4. Then in for 5, out for 5, in for 6, and so on. It has the same results as deep breathing, but also helps you focus on something other than what you’re worrying about. If your lung capacity isn’t the same as mine, you can always increase or decrease the numbers to suit your needs. The key is to actively take deeper breaths.
  2. Success!
    1. Remember, this is second semester, which means you've done this before and everything has worked out. If you feel overwhelmed by the thought of walking into a room full of new people, try instead to remind yourself that you've done it before- whether the anxiety is temporary or consistent throughout the term, you've done this, and you can do it again.
Handling nerves and anxiety is going to be different for everybody. For a long time, deep breathing didn't help me in the slightest- I needed to pair it with other methods to fully experience the benefits. What are some of your tips and tricks for handling first-day fears? Make sure to comment below- perhaps we can compile them all into a blog post later on! Note: If you're like me and find that anxiety is consistently keeping you from doing things you want to do, the Health and Wellness Centre is back to regular hours and provides resources and counselling services to those in need. If you're uncomfortable with the idea of visiting the Health and Wellness Centre, feel free to reach out and I can give you some alternative resources. Happy New Year everybody, and remember to breathe!  

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