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How anxiety influences your studies

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Anxiety has been a long-researched topic, and throughout the past 4 decades its notion and how we perceive it had changed a lot. In this article you’ll read about what anxiety is, where you can meet with anxious situations and how to handle them, and also about its influences. 

What is anxiety?

As researchers started to show interest towards this topic, and as the society developed, new approaches were needed to grasp the essence of anxiety. Unfortunately, there is not one widely accepted or used definition of anxiety, since it can be described, examined, tested, etc. at so many different levels and ways. To illustrate it, Edelmann (1992) brings the following examples:  

‘I am an anxious person’.

‘I am anxious when at the dentist’.

‘I feel anxious’.

‘I avoided the party because I was anxious about meeting people’.

In these examples anxiety is present in different ways: trait anxiety, situation specific anxiety, affective dimension of anxiety and anxiety as a result of an antecedent behaviour. Most of the times researchers use the debilitating and facilitating differentiation, the prior meaning anxiety as a negative effect and the latter meaning anxiety as a positive effect. Yes, anxiety can motivate you, but it depends on a bunch of factors: the situation, your mental state, prior experience to stressful situations, up-bringing, etc. 

It is hard to put anxiety’s definition into words, maybe because we usually distance ourselves from our anxious self, a notion that was coined by Csizér and Magid in 2014. They found that many interviewees chose to distance themselves from the person they were when they felt anxious when describing their feelings:

“I envy my classmates because they can express their ideas the way they want, and I can’t. When I am anxious, I am aware of myself and my behaviours, yet I cannot control my movements and I often ask myself: ‘What am I going to do now?’ … I cannot reflect on my inner speech while performing; I keep telling myself that I should always smile but I have an anxious side and I cannot deny it.

I believe that I can control the anxious side of me more and more, yet I do not know exactly how. (Female interviewee 1, hence FInt 1) Normally I can do whatever I want but the person who presents (herself in the English class) cannot do what she wants. (FInt 6)” 

anxiety

Influences of anxiety

As I have already mentioned, anxiety can have a debilitating (negative) and a facilitating (positive) effect. I’m sure it has happened to you when somebody were challenging you, maybe even mocking you that you won’t be able to accomplish something. This might bring you down, but for many people it’s motivating and they want to prove their worthiness.

This can be a working strategy in your studies as well, but not in the long run. Also, whether it affects you in a positive way or not, depends on the relationship you have with the person who’s “challenging” you, your mindset you are in at the time, etc. You might challenge yourself, and see if you can achieve some of your goals, i.e. reading a chapter, writing an essay, and so on.

Dörnyei et. al. in 2015 conducted a research in language teaching. The were examining the reaction of students in anxious situations and they found that there are 3 categories of people based on their reaction to these situations: fighter, quitter and safe player. Now these are quite self-explanatory notions, but let’s see what they meant by these words. 

It was promising to see that, through such a conscious stance, these students – who, we should recall, had often experienced a debilitating degree of anxiety – started to deal with their anxiety in a constructive manner, as illustrated by the following two examples: Now I am more aware of myself. I am not as anxious as I was before. Only in a few circumstances – I am going to be a teacher of English. English language will be my job. So I cannot be an anxious teacher, right? (FInt 10) Actually, I often criticise the anxious me and find it unnecessary to be anxious.

The positive side is that I have become a person who does detailed research to be well prepared before attending to a lecture, going somewhere or doing something. I have also started reading about anxiety. What I am saying is I do not give up. I am trying to improve myself. It is getting better and I feel happier. (FInt 1).

As we can see, the fighter becomes conscious about his/her anxiety and/or anxious reactions and takes up the fight.

The quitters became resigned to failure in trying to overcome their anxiety, as is expressed clearly by the following statement: ‘I do not think I can change. It is typical me. I have always been anxious, and I will always be, I know’ (FInt 9).

The safe players are usually trying to avoid the problems by avoiding eye contact, sitting at the back of the classroom/lecture hall. 

What can we do against anxiety?

Since there are so many levels and aspects of anxiety, the first step is the initiate what kind of anxiety you have: trait, situation specific, etc. Try to become conscious of yourself, your response, and the narrative you create about those anxiety-provoking situations. Once you’ve identified the situations, people, etc. that makes you anxious, you can come up with a goal, plan the route to achieve it, and divide it up into small steps.

McAdams in 2006 conducted a research on the narratives on anxiety, and how we can learn from them; he calls it integrative life narratives. The narrative is basically a story that we tell about the happenings with our feelings added. Dörnyei et. al. in 2015 also dealt with this topic in connection with the second language narrative identity, and they found that changing our life narratives can change our relationship to anxiety. Meaning, even though having anxious situations in our lives and telling these stories to others can make us hopeless, shaping our opinions and taking another point of view through our narratives can help us overcome anxiety. 

In a nutshell, anxiety is a really broad and vague notion that most of us has experienced so far, and if not, most probably will. However, it is a well-researched topic, it is not a taboo, and we can always seek out for help. Now you know what effects it has, and what to do reduce its negative effects

References:

Edelmann, R.J. (1992) Anxiety: Theory, Research and Intervention in Clinical and Health Psychology. Chichester: John Wiley.

Dörnyei, Z. (2009a) The L2 motivational self system. In Z. Dörnyei and E. Ushioda (eds) Motivation, Language Identity and the L2 Self (pp. 9–42). Bristol: Multilingual Matters.

Dörnyei, Z. and Ryan, S. (2015) The Psychology of the Language Learner Revisited. NewYork: Routledge

McAdams, D. (2006a) The role of narrative in personality psychology today. Narrative Inquiry 16 (1), 11–18.

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