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Anxiety and Fear of the Unknown

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Starting a new quarter can feel daunting, especially since school structure is constantly threatening to change. This uncertainty can heighten anxiety for students, as there is less predictability and stability. 

Anxiety is often characterized as “fear of the unknown.” For some students, anxiety can be the fear that they are forgetting or missing a task that will adversely affect them in the future. Some students are worried about the product of their task before they even begin, hindering their ability to start on the assignment— sometimes struggling with perfectionism to the point where they would rather not do an assignment at all than do it imperfectly. Anxiety may stem from a fear around previous poor performance on a test, essay, or quarter overall; this may result in the student putting even more pressure on themselves to do well next time because they’re scared they won’t be able to succeed. However the anxiety manifests itself, it can be a significant detriment to our students’ academic success and hinder their task initiation ability. 

Many students carry their negative experience from a previous assignment, or unsuccessful quarter or semester performance, to the next challenge they face. Learning to move on from these anxieties takes discipline, but will lead to long-term academic resilience. Task initiation can help students tackle this!

Task initiation is something that many students have difficulty with. Students often struggle to get past the anxiety associated with beginning a project—whether that’s a fear of failure or anxiety around what to choose for a project. However, once a student is able to get beyond that fear of the unknown and  begin their work, they’re able to see that it is not as scary as they originally thought. 

Here are some tips to help ease anxiety of the unknown: 

Make a list of your successes and challenges from previous projects or terms. This allows you to move forward with the lessons you learned and leave the negative attachments in the past. It also helps break down your anxieties so that you can see them, making them a little easier to quell. 

Use time blocking and other scheduling techniques to plan out your day. Knowing when you are going to work on certain tasks will help you see how you are going to accomplish your daily goals. This is especially important if school scheduling is switching from in-person learning days to asynchronous learning days. 

Remind yourself that you are on the right track. You’re doing well. And if you recognize that you have not done as well as you wanted, identify what you can change and actively choose to work on improving one thing. Reminding yourself that you are doing well releases dopamine, which encourages you to continue on that path, as your brain seeks that rewarding feeling again. 

While all of these things can help our students avoid feelings of anxiety, task initiation remains a barrier to success, especially if a student struggles with anxiety or feels overwhelmed. Often procrastination is a product of anxiety around tasks. So how can we work to reduce anxiety and the fear of the unknown by utilizing task initiation? 

Break down the task into manageable pieces. This is a simple step students can take, and mentors and parents can help with! Breaking a project into smaller parts helps to remove the intimidating feeling that can accompany a big assignment, s and this allows the student to accomplish those manageable pieces one by one and see their progress as they go. Incorporating time blocking into these smaller tasks is helpful as well. Looking at a whole assignment or project can feel overwhelming, but when a student has a clear idea of what they need to get done in order to complete a task, they are more likely to succeed and less likely to feel overwhelmed and procrastinate.

Maintain a consistent daily routine. This creates consistency, even when school is “consistently inconsistent.” Having a dependable, daily routine can help us stay organized and focused on the day’s tasks. Being able to execute a daily routine early in the day also allows us to feel accomplished early on, encouraging us to continue this trend. 

Even though the uncertainty and unknowns of this time can cause anxiety and make accomplishing daily tasks more difficult, there are simple systems we can establish to help us overcome such challenges. The development of task initiation skills is essential in managing anxiety. We can build and strengthen task initiation skills by creating and maintaining consistent routines, breaking tasks into manageable pieces, and creating lists to help us visualize how we can accomplish our goals. Remember that you are on a track to success.