How to reduce anxiety while studying

9 September 2021

A tired study appearing stressed

Symptoms of anxiety are often experienced when we’re under pressure and then ease off when the pressure lifts. But for some people, anxiety can become an ongoing problem that holds them back from achieving a goal such as starting a new career as a Financial Adviser.

Anxiety can cause a range of physical symptoms such as blushing, sweating or feeling dizzy. More serious physical symptoms of anxiety can include a rapid heartbeat and difficulty breathing, and people may find themselves avoiding situations that cause them to feel anxious.

In this post, we’ll answer questions such as ‘how does anxiety affect your body?’ and ‘how does anxiety impact learning?’

And while you may ultimately need to consult a professional for help with your anxiety, we’ll also share some simple self-help tips on how to clear your mind before studying.

Can studying cause anxiety?

It’s quite common for students to feel anxious when they’re studying for a qualification or preparing for an important exam. In many cases the symptoms will ease when the pressure has passed, but if it doesn’t pass you may need professional help to deal with your anxiety

Although the exact cause of anxiety is not fully understood, one theory is that the brain is responding incorrectly to fear. Rather than reacting normally to the pressure of studying, the brain puts your body into fight or flight mode. 

This is a state of increased alertness which can be lifesaving if you are actually in a dangerous situation, but the unwanted effects of anxiety on learning and memory are more negative. 

How does anxiety impact learning?

Imagine that you’re studying CeMAP in order to become a mortgage adviser, and you start to feel anxious about your course.

As your brain puts your body into fight or flight mode, levels of adrenaline rise and your sympathetic nervous system takes over. Your heart starts to beat faster, you breathe more rapidly and your blood pressure and body temperature increase. You may start to sweat.

None of this is conducive to learning and even if you do manage to stay focused enough to study, you’re unlikely to process the information properly or store it in your long term memory. Learning anxiety also affects your working memory and thought processing, so it’s hard to concentrate on your studies even for a short time.

All of this can lead to you falling behind in your studies, and you may feel too anxious to ask for the help you need to catch up. You might eventually start avoiding your lectures or the revision you need to do for an upcoming exam, which means you fall even further behind, which makes your anxiety even worse and so on.

So you can see that it’s really important to deal with feelings of anxiety while studying, before they can derail your learning.

How to reduce anxiety while studying

If you are experiencing mild symptoms of anxiety, there are plenty of self-help tips you can try to help manage your symptoms. 

Working for too long can make it harder to concentrate. It’s more effective to break your studies into 30 minute chunks with a short break in between so that you can stretch your legs and get a drink or snack.

If your workload feels daunting, break it up into small chunks of work with a schedule for completing each chunk. This takes a little more planning but can help to keep anxiety at bay.

Sometimes getting started is the hardest step, so try telling yourself that you’ll work for just five minutes. Once you get started, you may find that it’s easier to keep going but at the very least you’ll have completed five extra minutes of study. 

Remember that although it may look as if everyone else is coping with the course, many of them will be struggling as well. Talking to other students on your course can help, or if you don’t feel comfortable doing that, talk to someone else close to you. 

Disrupted sleep and eating habits can often accompany anxiety and can make your symptoms worse. Try to keep to a healthy routine of eating and sleeping, and exercise can also reduce anxiety even if it’s just a short walk each day. 

It’s tempting to fuel your study with copious cups of coffee and unwind afterwards with an alcoholic drink. But too much caffeine can increase your symptoms of anxiety while studying and although alcohol relaxes you, it can disrupt your sleep.

If sitting in a large lecture room makes you feel anxious, sitting close to the door can reassure you that you can leave easily at any time. You could also try studying your course online to help ease your anxiety.

If you do feel an anxiety attack starting, try to control your breathing. Breathe in through your nose for four seconds, hold the breath for two seconds and then breathe out for six seconds. This can help to lower your blood pressure and heart rate and reduce the levels of stress hormones in your blood.

Self-talk can also help to control learning anxiety, so try using a relaxing mantra or phrase to keep yourself relaxed. Repeating something like ‘No need to panic, you can do this’ may help keep your symptoms under control.

The most important thing is not to let anxiety affect your studies and ruin the plans that you have made. So if the self-help tips above don’t help with your symptoms of anxiety, it’s a good idea to have a chat with a professional to see how they can help.

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