Personally, I find seminars the hardest part of my academic obligations at uni. Doing the reading during my spare time, prepping essay answers and all of the other academic tasks I have to complete are, at some level, manageable for me (in a non-arrogant way). Lectures are difficult because of the amount of people I am surrounded by in the theatres during them, as well as other issues I have such as overstimulation. However my attendance rate for lectures is always better than it is for seminars. This is because I find seminars to be the most similar to a collaborative, high school classroom sort of setting. Group work, presentations, individual contributions, teachers calling on students and inter-group debates are all features of seminars which make my anxiety sky-rocket. As a result, last year I would either avoid going to some seminars completely or, if I did go, I would end-up getting nothing useful out of them because my mind was so preoccupied with the anxious frenzy going on inside my head and body.
Through time and after speaking to lots of different support workers, mentors and tutors, I have found ways to not eliminate my anxiety but at least lessen it to a non-brain-shattering level during seminars. If you struggle during these uni classes like me, then these might be a worth a try for you. However, everyone’s mental health is different and each individual will find that they respond better to differing techniques. So, please don’t think that if these things do not work for you then you are untreatable and powerless to combat your anxiety because that is simply not true. There will be other methods and techniques out there more suited to you, it’s a case of waiting and researching to find the right support structures you need to put in place for you.
Without further ado, here are my 5 tips for combatting anxiety during University seminars:
1. Seek out your room beforehand
I find new, unfamiliar places to be overwhelming, so I certainly do not want the first time I visit a place to coincide with my first day of class and the first time I meet my classmates. On the whole, that is just way too many firsts and new experiences to be bundled together and experienced by me. So, I would recommend that if you have a day on-campus before teaching starts, then try to find the rooms your seminars (and lectures) will be in during the year. That way you can familiarise yourself with the place and not worry about having to find your way there and possibly being late on your first day. If you can remove the anxiety of not knowing where you are going that is another weight you can ease off your shoulders before your seminars start. Also, it might help you feel more in control if you know the layout and look of the classroom in advance.
2. Use other people’s know-how
From my knowledge of Universities, they all have a student support/information service which all obviously vary in size and other factors but have a responsibility on campus to try and help students who come to them with specific needs and issues. So, if you find that you ares struggling in seminars, make use of this service rather than struggling in silence. It is perfectly valid to set-up an appointment with a member of staff at your support service and ask them to email your tutors to notify them that you would rather not be called-upon in class to answer questions, for example, because the anxiety this provokes detracts from your learning. If your tutors are made aware of this then they can adjust accordingly and, if they do not accommodate your wishes, then you have a point of contact to go back to at the support unit who is already aware of the situation and can take things further. On the whole if you are honest and open about your struggles, I have found that people are a lot more ready and willing to help you.
3. Write it down
If I am ever called-upon during a seminar to answer a question or contribute in any way my mind goes completely blank; any knowledge or opinion I may have had two seconds beforehand disappears from my mind and I am rendered to a complete state of confusion and panic. So, if you are aware of study questions for that session in advance or if you have readings you need to do for that seminar, jot down some bullet points. That way if you are put on the spot at least you will have some words written down in front of you that you could be able to credibly use to escape the awkward silence of a non-answer. In all honesty, this has not always worked for me as I have still been unable to get words out even when they were in front of me but it is worth giving this tactic a shot anyway.
4. Fidget/stimming tools and toys
In any anxiety-provoking situation I find fidget toys useful. From making an airplane journey to walking down the street, fidget or stimming toys can have huge benefits in lowering your anxiety and allowing you to feel more relaxed. You can take out some of your anxious energy and re-focus your mind on them by using them under your desk or in your pockets. Personally, if I allow myself even just a minute of withdrawing from my current setting and focusing solely on the feeling and texture of my fidget toy (such as a tangle or fidget cube), I am sometimes able to regain some semblance of control over my thoughts.
5. Use your perspective
I have a tendency to plunge myself into catastrophic thinking whenever I am in the midst of struggling through a seminar. Feeling anxious and not being able to speak become the only things I can think about and a spiral of self-loathing and negative thoughts enter my head. What I’m still working on is implementing a different perspective during these moments. Rather than falling into a black hole of criticism and slating myself, I try to remind myself that seminars are not the centre of my world and are not the be-all and end-all of my academic career. At the end of the day, I am not graded on how I do in seminars and neither should me self-worth be based on them. I blow the experience of seminars out of proportion and let them define the tone and mood for the rest of my day which is both unhealthy and completely unnecessary.
I feel like a bit of fraud talking about this because I still have not conquered seminar anxiety myself. Hopefully though you will be able to find something in my ramblings which will at least help to ease your struggle a little bit and you won’t do what I did in my first year which was avoid even going to a crazy amount of seminars which is the start of a slippery slope.