Teach manners to Miss Anxious
March 22, 2010 6:08 AM   Subscribe

AnxietyRemedyFilter : Advice on school-related anxiety, which seems to complicate my academic pathway (question on generally interation with administrative staff, teachers, future internship tutors and the like.

Me : 23 woman, ENFP, mostly cheerful and well-meaning, regularly getting positive feedback from people I meet, be it profesionnaly or on more laid back settings, I have a good network of friends. Currently going to university, preparing for a master's after switching majors. Part-time working student.

Dark side : ...i regularly turn into a mess, why ? --> family past, history of loneliness, depression, panic attacks, sexual abuse and excessive submission to authority figures as well as fear of judgement.
Remedy : Have been in therapy for 2,5 years, have medication for panic attacks, regular practice of tai chi, started yoga, healthy sleeping and eating habits, as well as positive self-talk and journaling (when i have time).

Question : I have noticed that in times of uncertainty, especially when in an academic setting (asking a question in class /admission / filling up papers and calling to ask for a specific information or certificate from my last university for example), I become a mess of anxiety within seconds when speaking to people, be it on the phone or face to face.

I thought it would go away, but in the last 3 years, I have had several occasions to prove myself and others that something weird and panicky was going on inside me. I fear the consequences, & am not sure therapy is actually helping these very specific situations

examples from the last 2 years :
- giving in a home assignment 1 day late due to the very recent passing away of a relative, and when explaining the teacher the reason, starting to shake, stutter, and not looking him in the eye. Apologizing profusely to anyone for anything, going as far as asking "are you sure you don't mind ?" when asking a teacher to explain something, or an administrative staff to print out certain docuents they print for all students.
- committing small mistakes during my internship (asking too many questions, misunderstanding their answers because I didnt dare asking for more clarity), all due to being scared of my boss, who was actually quite nice at first, though she seemed to be acting a little cold to all coworkers, but that was her personality.
- systematically procrastinating up to the point of danger (= starting at midnight the night before due), when given big home assignments by teachers. (this has gotten way better).
- Simply losing my composure, when speaking with a secretary, answering a question about myself (small talk on projects for the next academic year or so), this resulting in giving away TMI and getting soo embarassed. For example, i just failed at the admission to a master's program, in which i was rated well on all scales, except on a psychological test that was part of the process, which indicated that my emotional self-control and anxiety were at unhealthy extremes. Well, I mentionned this to the secretary who asked me about my project for next year... quickly and nervously, I said it. And am mortified, as usual.

NB : apart from these times, and aside from odd time management habits (again, due to the unpredictability of my fear moments), I managed to do well, (almost) to the point of looking normal to other students and teachers whom I didn't interact with at all. I am good at writing, so most of my emails and cover letters/etc look good, and even classy (in the words of 2 people who hired me for part times jobs).

TL;DR : I am looking for ressources / guidelines on how to behave naturally and profesionally, how to interpret social clues in such settings, and get better at managing a very powerful anxiey as quickly as possible. It is displaying an unstable image of myself to people who shouldn't be concerned by it, but only by my work.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (6 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I have noticed that in times of uncertainty, especially when in an academic setting (asking a question in class /admission / filling up papers and calling to ask for a specific information or certificate from my last university for example), I become a mess of anxiety within seconds when speaking to people, be it on the phone or face to face.

The only way to overcome this is with practice. Take a public speaking class. Nervousness is one thing. Letting it inhibit you in social situations is quite another. You will find your life increasingly limited if you allow anxieties such as this to rule over you. I suspect you are aware of this.
posted by dfriedman at 6:16 AM on March 22, 2010

I don't know if this will help, but: speaking as a professor, I want my students to do well, and I care about their general well-being (in an abstract, rather than a creepy, sense), and I think most (although not all) of my colleagues feel the same way, as do the administrators I deal with on a regular basis. Which means -- yes, we are busy, but part of our jobs is to make time for you. If you want to email me to explain your problem (because that would be less stressful), do do. If you would like to meet face to face but without other students standing around, that is OK, too -- in fact, it is what office hours are for. If you need time to explain things, take the time; I will work with you. It's part of my job. Also -- I have seen a lot of people make little gaffes and have small meltdowns, it is part of the job and I don't hold it against you or even remember it all that clearly in a few days. I want you to do well in my class and at my university; doing poorly helps no one.

I can't promise every professor feels the same way, but, if you ask for help, I expect you will fins more sympathetic ears than you imagine, and, with some success, you should find dealing with the less-sympathetic easier.

Lastly, I expect your university has some services that might be helpful. I realize that getting "disability standing" might seem like a bad thing, but it can be very useful to professors to guide them in dealing with your particular problems in an effective way. You're in therapy, so you probably don't need university counseling services, but the disability office might be able to suggest tactics to deal with the academic environment. And, while working life doesn't come with these helpful services, getting help and support in a structured setting may give you tools to deal with these situations in the working world.

That's my two cents.
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:21 AM on March 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

As a fellow anxious person, I feel for you. What has helped me immensely is to calm down and slow down (especially on the phone, when I get the most stressed). So, when I make phone calls, I make a conscious effort to slow down and think through what I'm saying. If I'm feeling especially nervous, I also try to give myself a bit of positive feedback ('Oh, that sounded pretty professional - well done, self'). If you can keep your pace of talking slow, you'll have plenty of time to assess the cues others are giving you, as well as to figure out a way to wrap things up if you think you're moving into TMI territory.

Use your network of friends to practice speaking about academic things. I'm sure they wouldn't mind hearing about your project for next year. Ask them to stop you when you start going to quickly. Just getting used to formulating the sentences will make it come more naturally, and it was really reassuring to me to realise I could be talking at a rate that I thought was painfully slow, but was, in fact, perfectly fine. My script for my academic project is pretty basic - 'I'm researching x as practiced through y. [Quick definition of x if necessary]. It's especially relevant/interesting/difficult because of z.'
posted by brambory at 7:43 AM on March 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Okay, I have to mention ADHD because I had similar issues that went away with treatment of my ADHD.

It wasn't immediate, I had to practice after I had the confidence in my skills and self-control. Before getting my ADHD treated I usually just went with my TMI and worked really hard on being as charming as possible and very open and up-front about my mistakes, even though inside I would be sad and kicking myself for messing up again. Not a perfect solution.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 8:57 AM on March 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

It sounds like a perfect job for therapy. If your therapy isn't helping, I'd recommend talking to your therapist about that and perhaps looking for a new one.

It sounds to me (a non-therapist in therapy) that you have some pretty scary associations with authority figures that are activated constantly around your professors. That's exactly the kind of thing that (good) therapy is good for.

My impression is that the quality (i.e. efficacy) of therapy varies wildly from one therapist to another.
posted by callmejay at 9:06 AM on March 22, 2010

Perhaps you could change your therapy to a CBT-based kind? Also look into changing your meds to help with social anxiety.
posted by pised at 12:00 PM on March 22, 2010

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