What School Anxiety Does to Your Brain and What You Can Do About It

Levels of school stress and anxiety are on the rise for students. Dr. Trish Leigh has tips to control the panic and learn how to thrive academically.

When Tony started college, he had always been a bit of a worrier, and an over-thinker. But during his first year at the university, the level of his school anxiety became palpable and basically never went away. He began to feel like he couldn’t think straight and his grades were suffering. It turns out Tony isn’t alone. A scientific study of undergraduate students has shown that over 20% of students who were not suffering from anxiety before they started college. Were diagnosed with clinical levels by their second year.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, men and women between the ages of 18 – 44 have the highest incidence of anxiety in the United States at 22.5%. Most people complain of mild anxiety, however, mild and obviously chronic (spanning 26 years) can take its toll on your brain and thus your well-being. What’s even more concerning is that 31.9% of adolescents are diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. What this means is that many people suffer from anxiety across their lifetime and the trend is on the rise. Ok, so what to do about it? First, let’s pick it apart a bit by exploring the route of anxiety in a person’s brain.

What is happening in your brain when you suffer from school anxiety?

Our brains are designed to operate with a mode called Fight or Flight. Essentially, our brain kicks it into overdrive in the presence of real and imminent danger. The increased levels of alertness and the heightened bodily responses can be a life-saver if the danger is real. Unfortunately, we live in a society of constant “mini-fight or flight” and students are at the greatest risk of suffering the consequences. This means that your brain kicks into fast gear when you are studying, preparing a presentation, or writing a paper. During those activities, overdrive makes it difficult to concentrate, stay calm, and process information.

Excessive Stress and Anxiety

Excessive stress and anxiety show up in the brain in the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala. Key regions of the brain for learning and memory as well as the physiological and behavioral responses to fear. Environmental stimuli set off a chain reaction in vital areas of the brain including the amygdala when a threat is perceived. If the prefrontal cortex deems that no harm is evident, it dampens the amygdala’s response, calming the brain’s reaction. If the threat is considered real, the fear response remains. Science has shown that the worry and fear response is heightened in those people who struggle with chronic anxiety. This is seen in qEEG Brain Mapping as an increase in fast and extra fast processing speed within the brain’s performance.

Top 5 Tips for Reducing Anxiety So You Can Think Clearly to Learn

  • Start Early: Procrastination has been shown to be the number 1 reason students feel so pressured and behind the eight ball. Start early and keep the pressure to a minimum.
  • Half Hour at the Most: Research suggests that most students have a forty-minute maximum attention span. Work in half-hour chunks with water and stretch breaks in between.
  • Chunk It Down: Break your work into chunks that are manageable. This will force you to plan it out a bit and will stave off anxiety because you have put the thought into it.
  • Start with the Worst: Have an assignment that is particularly difficult or bothering you. Start with it first. By demystifying the hardest work, it makes all the rest of your projects easier. Better yet, research shows that just by starting you are much more likely to finish a project and finish it well.
  • You Are Not Alone: Talk to people. They will tell you they are stressed out and are struggling to get their work done. They may look like they are coping but feel the same as you. When anxiety settles in, people start to think it is only them. Others are in the same boat, camaraderie will make you feel better.

Remember to breathe slowly and confidently, in through your nose and out through your mouth. If you feel like panic is coming your way. By keeping your body and mind calm. You can keep your brain calm for better performance.

If you or a loved one are not able to use techniques and strategies to stay calm and focused. You may need help getting your brain out of anxiety mode. If your qEEG Brain Map identifies excessive use of fast and extra fast processing speed. You may qualify for advanced Neurofeedback Therapy to decrease the use of overdrive in your brain. Help you feel calmer, more focused, and increase your productivity.