Anxiety

Are you having problems with a particular subject or class in school?  Does it give you a headache or an empty feeling in the pit of your stomach? Do you feel upset, angry, or afraid when you go to that class? Or do you feel helpless or frustrated? Maybe you work hard, but you don't seem to be getting anywhere. You are not alone. Many students want to do better in certain subjects but feel stuck. Why do you feel this way? Why does this only happen in certain courses? Your problems may be caused by your Interest level, Anxiety level, and/or Approach.

Interest level-- Let's say you're having problems in world history. You just don't want to pick up the textbook and do the assigned reading. You think, "Who cares about all that stuff that happened way back then? I just can't get into it." A person with this opinion of world history has a LOW interest level in the subject. Someone with a low interest level doesn't usually get good grades in that subject.

Anxiety level--When you to walk into algebra class, you get upset. You go to class to take a test, and your mind goes completely blank. You just know you won't do well. Your feelings keep you from succeeding in the class.

Approach-- You know you're interested in biology, and you're not anxious about it. But you're still just not getting it. Why? Maybe you're not attacking the subject from the best direction. You might need help with your study skills. Maybe some ideas you have are getting in your way. Maybe your style of learning does not match how your teacher chooses to teach.

We will discuss here how you might try approaching the subjects you are having trouble with. We can't solve all your problems, but we can give some ideas about how you might do better in your problem subjects.

What to do about it?  For low interest level-- The more interested you are in a subject, the more likely you are to succeed in that subject. It's always a challenge to do well in a class that you don't like. Here are some ideas that might help. Motivate yourself.   Try talking to yourself and saying positive things about the class, like: I am doing better in this class every day. I need this class to graduate. I will do the best I can. The schools that interest me will be looking at my grade in this class; I need good grades to be accepted.  I can do well in this class even if my main interests are somewhere else.  If I learn it now, I won't have to relearn it later. I may have to study this subject again in college, and it will be easier if I learn the basics now.

Keep positive thoughts flowing, and you will probably do better. Reward yourself when you do well. Try bribing yourself. For every week that you turn in all assignments, you could treat yourself to something special. Then, after accomplishing this goal, choose a higher goal for the class. For instance, every week that you turn in all assignments and maintain a desired grade (B?, A?) average, treat yourself to an even larger reward. The exact reward, of course, will depend on you. It could be a small food treat, a movie, or time with a friend. You might even try negotiating with a parent (spouse) for rewards in classes that are particularly challenging.

The way to overcome a low interest level in a class is up to you. But it can be done! Be creative. Think about ways to motivate yourself by focusing on the positive and treating yourself well. Then, try out your ideas to see what really works best for you.

Anxiety--The best way to know whether you are afraid or anxious about a particular subject is to pay attention to yourself. How do you feel when you go into that class? Do you feel like you'd rather be almost anyplace else? Do you perspire, have a headache, a stomachache, or breathe differently? Also, you might be thinking negative things such as: "I really hate this class." "I won't ever do well in this class."   "I think it's ridiculous that I have to take this class."    "I won't use this stuff ever." "I just know I'm going to fail this class."

These are all signs of anxiety.

So, what do you do if you think your problem is subject anxiety?  One thing you can do is learn to be relaxed. It takes practice to learn how to do this. You will need to practice changing the way you feel and the way you think about the class. The first step is to picture a time or a place that you are really comfortable when you are at your best. With practice, you can feel the same way in your problem class. Here's what you can try:
1. Breathe deeply and imagine yourself in a relaxing scene (like at the beach or on vacation).
2. When you are really feeling good, picture yourself in a class that you really like and do well in. You should continue to feel relaxed.
3. Now, picture yourself in your problem class. Continue to breathe deeply and imagine the relaxing scene. Focus on staying relaxed. Your anxiety level should get better and better as you practice. The point is that if you can do this in your imagination, you can do it for real. Whenever you think about being in that class, first breathe deeply and think of your peaceful scene. Whenever you go to the class, do it again. Whenever you're in class and start feeling terrible (like when you're taking a test), breathe deeply and picture your peaceful scene again.

Another way to relieve subject anxiety is change the way you think about the class. You have to "reprogram" the way your mind works. First of all, find something positive about the class. Do you have a good friend in there? Are there ever any enjoyable projects or movies or something which you enjoyed? By looking for the positive, you will lessen the negative. In addition, whenever you think negative thoughts about a class, think positive thoughts instead. For example, replace "I really hate this class" with "I am learning to like this class."

Replace "I think it's ridiculous that I have to take this class." with "This class can probably help me in the long run." You can have control over how you think and feel. And you will find that having a positive attitude toward things, all things, will make you succeed at them much more easily.

How can I approach my problem subject differently? It will help if you start feeling better about the class. It can also help if you
learn new ways of studying the subject. Here are some study tips for reading, writing, math, science, social studies. Reading--Good reading skills can help you in all of your classes. If your reading skills are lacking in some way, you could find yourself in trouble very quickly. Generally, the better you understand what you read and retain what you read the better you will do in your classes. One way to improve your reading comprehension is called SOAR (Survey, Organize, Anticipate, Recite, Review). There are five steps to this method.

Step 1. Survey--Briefly look over the material to become familiar with it. Get a feel for the main topics. One good way to survey a book is to read all chapter titles and summaries.

Step 2. Organize -- From headings and subheadings in the reading material, make up (and write down) questions to yourself about the subject. Later, when you read the material, see if you can answer your questions. You can also ask yourself questions about the content, such as the writer's goals, how the material is related to what you already know, and what experiences you may have had that relate to the material. These kinds of questions can help make the subject mean more to you.

Step 3.Anticipate -- Now read the material slowly and carefully. Give special attention to answering the questions you asked in Step 2. Take care to connect what you are reading about the subject to what you already know.

Step 4. Recite -- Once you have read a section of the material, stop and answer the questions raised in Step 2. This helps you check on how well you understand what you have read, and helps the content mean more to you. It also helps you remember more of what you read.

Step 5. Review -- Focus on going over the material one more time. Pay special attention to the questions in Step 2 that were the most difficult for you to answer.

No matter how good your reading skills are, they can probably be improved by using this method. Give it a try!  If you'd like more information about SOAR, ask an English or Resource Room teacher. Help is always available for your problems. Mostly what it takes is learning what your problem areas are and then acting on getting some help. Sometimes it is hard to ask for help, but it's often the most aware and successful people who look for help when they really need it.

Your school counselor or favorite teacher will be able to help you out with these ideas if you find them strange and unusual. Ask them for help. They should be able to help you out with these classes that are giving you trouble.

Take time for writing an essay, doing a major project.

One of the worst study habits that many students have is that of rushing to do an assignment. There are times when an assignment can be done hurriedly. These are really few and far between. There are also assignments which need a regular amount of time, almost daily.  Then, there are the assignments which need to be started several days in advance of due dates--and in fact, maybe even weeks before!

One of these assignments is a written paper. Writing takes thought. Very, very few people are able to sit down and write a good paper on the first try. Good writers edit and revise and edit and revise their papers--several times. In addition, they let the paper "sit" for a while before final revisions. What is the purpose of this time lapse? It allows the writer to come back to the paper with a fresher ability to see the errors and to see the clarity of the thought. In other words, when you step away from your writing for a while, you will come back to it with a fresher mind. You will not be so deep into what you have written, and you will be able to see where a reader might not understand what you have written. Taking time to write, then pausing for a day or so, is one of the most beneficial steps you can take to create a good paper.

More tips for math

Realize that you use math every day. When you see a sign for 20% off an item you want to buy, you are really looking at an algebra problem; ie: $4.00 - .20 (%) = x. Go ahead and figure out your final cost; don't wait for the clerk to do it. This way, you will be practicing math in your everyday life.

Estimate an answer. Then when you get your actual answer, compare the two. Are they close? If not, then you know that there is a major error somewhere--either in your reasoning or in your actual arithmetic steps. By estimating first, you can check yourself and find errors sooner.

Learn to understand math. Don't memorize. Understanding what is really happening within a math problem is the real key to doing well in math. If you memorize a formula and don't understand it, you will not be building a foundation for future math classes and problems. You will be constantly trying to memorize more and more complicated equations and solutions. This will lead to frustration and make math very difficult.

Other tips for studying

Study a subject every day. Even if you don't have any homework or assignments for a class, review the subject every school day and once on week-ends. Even 15 minutes to half an hour can help reinforce your understanding of the subject. Take book and lecture notes on the same page. Divide your notebook paper into two columns. In one column, take book notes. Take lecture notes about a topic right next to the same topic book notes. Then you can compare the two. One may help you learn the other.

Learn how to use computers. Take a typing class or keyboarding class in high school. Also learn how to use computers so that you will be prepared to use them in college and on a future job. You will find that they make your work much easier. And you will have a much needed skill for the workforce.  Test yourself. Before a you take a test, create a test for you to take. Think of possible questions that might be on an essay test. Use some of the problems in the math book which were not assigned or use questions from another text book about the same subject. Answer the questions. You will soon find out how much you really know.

Margin notes. Put a question mark in the margin of your notes by information you are unsure of. It will remind you to see your teacher for more explanation.

Flash cards. Use flash cards to help review items for a class. Flash cards can be used for vocabulary in English and a foreign language. They can also be used to review math equations, theories and equations for chemistry, facts for history and social studies, and quotes for a lit class. You can use notecards for this purpose.

Tape recorder. Use a tape recorder, especially in a foreign language class. You can then listen to the proper pronunciation at home; you can review and practice the proper word and sentence sounds. You will also be able to train yourself to listen to the language. Therefore, you will be able to understand it better in class and in real life. You can also record a teacher's lecture, a class speech, or any other thing which you think might be appropriate. You can then review it at home.

Recite or read aloud. It may sound strange to read or recite your notes or what you are trying to learn outloud. However, some students have found this to be very helpful. Try it! You may find that it helps.

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