Newswise — TORONTO, Aug. 20, 2012 --- Whether you’re heading off to college or university for the first time, or returning for another year, starting school in September can be a nerve-wracking experience for some students. To help turn those anxious feelings around, Ryerson psychology expert Martin Antony offers these tips on how to have a worry-free year:
1. Get to know your anxietyBefore you can take steps to reduce your anxiety, it is important to understand the nature of your discomfort. Here are examples of some questions to ask yourself:• What triggers my anxiety? Are there particular situations that make me uncomfortable? Making friends at school? First day of classes? Giving presentations? Speaking with my professors?• What thoughts and predictions contribute to my anxiety? Do I worry what others may think about me? Do I worry that others may view me as stupid, boring or unattractive? Do I worry about being embarrassed or humiliated?• What physical symptoms do I experience in social situations? Do I blush, sweat, shake, or lose my train of thought?
2. Challenge your anxious thinkingRather than assuming your anxiety-provoking beliefs and predictions are true, treat these thoughts as guesses about how things may be. Is there evidence for or against your anxious thoughts? If you assume that other people will find you incompetent, what evidence do you have for this belief? Is there evidence that people don’t find you incompetent? How might you cope with some people thinking you are not perfect? Is it really important to be liked by everyone, or is that just your anxiety talking? Try to shift the way you think about social situations and look at them the way someone without social anxiety might think about them.
3. Don’t avoid situations you fear - confront themWe all avoid situations that make us nervous. We make excuses to get out of doing things we don’t want to do, and we find subtle ways to protect ourselves in situations that make us uncomfortable (i.e., sitting at the back of the class to avoid being called on by the professor). Unfortunately, avoiding situations and relying on safety behaviours helps keep anxiety alive. One of the most powerful ways to overcome anxiety involves purposely exposing yourself to the situations you fear, over and over again, until you feel more comfortable. Of course, doing this means being prepared to feel uncomfortable during the first few “exposure” practices.
Perfectionism and Worry
Because perfectionism is associated with standards and expectations that are impossible to meet, perfectionists risk having events not turn out as planned. Many perfectionists develop the perception that they have “reason” to worry.
Perfectionistic worry can be associated with the belief that it is better to do nothing than to take a risk and fail. Students who believe that a term paper must be perfect may be inclined to procrastinate and put off starting their papers because they know that they cannot possibly meet the impossible standards that they have set for themselves. Is it better to have one perfect assignment or several good assignments? Is it better to finish a test or to perfect the part you completed?
Chronic worry can be lessened by learning to relax. Meditation, yoga and mindfulness training are good relaxation exercises, as are progressive muscle relaxation, slow breathing and picturing calm images.
When you find yourself overly worried about something, force yourself to assess the situation more realistically. For example, if you are worried that you will fail a test, consider the following questions:• Do I know for sure that I will fail the exam?• Have I done well on past exams, even when I thought I would fail?• Did I study less than I usually do for similar exams?• What is really likely to happen if I fail the exam?• Are the results of a single exam likely to have a huge impact on my overall average?• Is it possible for a person to fail a single exam and still do well in life?
Learn to tolerate uncertainty and ambiguity. Create a list of possible outcomes for the situation you are facing and consider ways of dealing with each one. Accept your inability to control the outcomes, but recognize that you can control your reaction.
EXPERT AVAILABLE FOR INTERVIEWS:
Martin Antony, Professor and Chair, Department of PsychologyCo-Author, The Anti-Anxiety Workbook (Guilford Press, 2009) and When Perfect Isn’t Good Enough (New Harbinger Publications, 2009)
Not available the week of September 17