Are you feeling that your child is nervous and experiencing anxiety before their test and class presentation?
A little bit of nerves before a big test or a class presentation is completely normal.
“However, when anxiety spirals out of control, it can become a considerable roadblock to learning,” says Dana Stahl, Learning Specialist in private practice, author and creator of The ABCs of Academic Success online course for parents to help their child thrive.
It helps to know what happens inside the body when your child experiences anxiety, and then what to do about it, so that your child can relax more and not allow the anxiety to prevent them from experiencing academic success.
When your child experiences anxiety, their bodies go into fight or flight mode.
Their brain becomes unable to accurately identify sources of threat and triggers the sympathetic nervous system.
This regulates a lot of automatic bodily functions – heartbeat and breathing speed up, palms start sweating, muscles tense up, and negative thoughts spiral.
“As the brain goes into fight or flight mode, learning becomes difficult, if not impossible, because your child’s brain is unable to create the type of connections that normally result in rewards, such as dopamine, which help them feel good when they attempt and master a task successfully, “ continues Stahl.
Overall, there are many things you can do to create new neural pathways or connections in the brain that help minimize the anxiety levels and this is how new learning and the strengthening of existing knowledge occurs.
It is only when parents do not have the tools and strategies to help their child that anxiety can be so severe, it brings the brain’s ability to retain and process information to a standstill.
It’s crucial, therefore, not to take learning anxiety lightly, since if left unattended, it can become a considerable roadblock to academic success.
Here are the 3 best anxiety and academic success solutions to help students overcome learning challenges.
3 Best Anxiety Academic Success Solutions for Your Child
1. Overcome Anxiety for Academic Success by Planning Ahead
In Stahl’s step-by-step parenting course, The ABCs of Academic Success, she says, “Students can have an inner fear that they aren’t going to perform to the best of their ability so they freeze. Due to the anxiety, they underperform.”
This performance anxiety and test anxiety can work like vicious cycles.
The fear of being unable to perform as well as the student wishes to, and as well as their parents and teachers expect of them, creates further feelings of stress and anxiety.
This in turn can make anxiety spiral out of control.
However, to combat these potential feelings of helplessness and feel in control of the situation, students need to become adept at planning their learning.
To introduce structure and therefore a sense of control into students’ lives, students benefit from maintaining a personal calendar.
This can be a large wall calendar with lots of color and things they can move around to a smaller calendar that works best for them.
Even a digital calendar works for some students because it can come with reminder bells or digital sounds.
By jotting or typing down exactly when a paper is due, and when a test is scheduled for, students and parents can work together, and tell at a glance how much time they have before a deadline, and how many deadlines are close together.
By having visual reminders of their commitments, they no longer risk under- or overestimating how much time they have, and are better able to allot their study time efficiently.
Breaking down deadlines into micro-goals can also help students maintain a sense of control over their learning situations.
If students set macro-goals however, such as, finish learning for a test in one day – they add on to the pressure they might already be feeling.
If they are unable to meet that type of goal, which can be too large to realistically accomplish, they feel demotivated and anxiety may ensue.
On the other hand, breaking tasks down into small, manageable segments and spacing these out over the time available can serve to mitigate anxiety as well as improve motivation.
Ticking off the micro-goals on a to-do list produces a sense of accomplishment due to the neurotransmitter dopamine, in the brain, spiking in your child’s system.
And the spike of dopamine is the very thing you want to occur because it makes your child feel safe, comfortable, happier and not anxious.
Because of how good you feel once your brain’s reward pathways are active, your brain anticipates this sense of reward and motivates you to continue ticking off the goals in your list.
This also encourages students to approach assignments in a systematic, methodical manner, and ensures greater quality, rather than a rushed attempt to complete a project without sufficient planning.
Organization and planning are not only limited to time.
Another thing that can create anxiety in your child can stem from a lack of organization, such as misplacing notes, forgetting homework, and lacking structure in how learning material is categorized as Stahl highlights in The ABCs of Academic Success.
However, her simple systems, such as developing a habit of color-coding notes, separating notes for specific subjects by their binders, ensuring graded tests and quizzes are regularly removed to make way for new items, helps reduce these anxious feelings.
By establishing order into how notes and learning material are categorized, students are aware they can easily find what they are looking for by locating it in the right binder or notebook.
Having structure that your child can rely on counteracts feelings of anxiety stemming from uncertainty.
Your child might find it difficult to maintain this type of order by themselves, at least before they cultivate it as a lifelong habit.
Therefore, you can also work with their teachers and schedule regular sessions to review agendas and notes, to ensure your child is effectively learning self-regulation and are not missing important items.
2. Overcome Anxiety for Academic Success by Chunking Study Sessions
Remember that your child can easily feel overwhelmed and anxious by the size of the task they need to complete also.
If they are feeling intimidated and anxious due to performance anxiety, Stahl recommends the “smash the task” approach in The ABCs of Academic Success.
As with your to-do list, breaking learning down into smaller assignments can help manage and minimize feelings of anxiety.
And the great news is that chunking study sessions, into smaller bits and shorter sessions, is the brain-based neuroscience-backed strategy that aligns with how the brain learns best
Some students make the mistake of attempting to cram study material for long hours and pulling all-nighters to meet their deadlines.
This actually damages your child’s ability to retain information, and the inability to recall what students have learned can further fuel performance anxiety.
Research on what is called The Ebbinghaus curve of forgetting illustrates why long study hours are not at all helpful.
Researchers have established that learners are better able to recall material at the beginning of a study session (primacy) and at the end (recency).
Information learned in the middle tends to decay, and the longer the study session, the steeper the curve of forgetting.
In other words, the greater the amount of information forgotten if there is no strategy in place to help it consolidate into long-term memory.
In order to retain more of what is learned, your child benefits from reducing the gap between the beginning and end of their study session.
Cut study sessions into no more than 20-25 minutes sessions and this will resolve their anxiety, as well as improve their learning and memory abilities.
Then give 5 minute breaks to walk around, drink water, do a few exercises, etc.
This allows their brain time to focus on the material, as well as take time off to do other things.
During this “off-time”, the brain is subconsciously making connections between the new material and cementing it into longer-term memory.
Without appropriate breaks in between sessions, their brain doesn’t have the time to “digest” new information in this way.
Next, help your child review what they already learned to ensure it does not simply get pruned out of their brain.
Review the material after 24 hours, a week, then a month. This way they are far more likely to remember.
Formulating a system of breaking big assignments down into smaller tasks spaced out by regular breaks gives your child a methodical approach to what might initially seem like a daunting challenge.
Smaller tasks also ensure that students devote their attention to specific elements of the assignment.
They are thus able to generate more thought out, intensive, and critical output for each aspect of the assignment, rather than struggling to process it as a whole.
3. Overcome Anxiety for Academic Success with Mindful Breathing
Earlier, we discussed your child’s body’s physical reactions during experiences with anxiety, with the sympathetic nervous system going into overdrive.
Mindful breathing is a simple, safe, and effective way of breaking the spiral of anxious physiological reaction and resetting your brain and body for better learning.
Out of all the reactions that the body undergoes when it feels stressed and panicky, breathing is the one you can consciously control.
By breathing deeply and slowly, the vagus nerve – the longest nerve in the body – gets stimulated and triggers the parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system is the one that helps your child relax.
This reverses the anxiety cycle, by slowing down their heartbeat, relaxing muscles, reducing blood pressure, etc.
Deep breathing also shifts the brain into an alpha wave state.
There are several brain wave patterns in your child’s brain, and the one that is optimal for learning is a bit slower than the beta wave state which has more brain waves per cycle.
Alpha brain waves have fewer cycles per second, and are the most ideal state for learning, because your child feels both calm and alert.
In other words, their brain is relaxed and more receptive to learning and able to create and reinforce neural pathways without interference.
Students who experience anxiety with learning can benefit from developing a practice of mindful breathing.
Do this. Have them inhale slowly for 4 counts, hold it in for 4 counts, and exhale slowly for another 4 counts.
Doing this several times while sitting up, shoulders and back straight, and breathing in deeply from the stomach, automatically interrupts the physiological cycle of panic caused by anxiety.
As a result, repeating these deep breathing exercises can restore students to a state of clarity and calm that enables them to be more receptive of learning.
Hopefully, this article provides a better understanding of why learning related anxiety occurs, what happens to the brain and body during an anxiety attack, and what to do to counter it.
If you want your child to truly thrive when learning and be successful, Dana’s course, The ABC’s of Academic Success gives you an easy-to-follow master plan and helps your child who has learning, attention or anxiety issues in every way possible.
Which of these 3 best anxiety and academic success solutions are you trying out first?
I’d love to know, so thanks for your comments.
Dana Stahl grew up with a learning disability. With the right help, she resolved it and her superpower is helping your LD child succeed in school, at home or during remote learning.
As an Educational Consultant and Learning Specialist for over 30 years, Dana created an easy-to-follow, step-by-step online course called The ABCs of Academic Success so you can help your child thrive academically! Check it out and get a free 15 minute consultation with Dana too.