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What I Want My Professors to Know About My Anxiety

By Hatteras Dunton

I’m a math major. I have anxiety. It’s part of who I am, but when it comes to school it seems like it’s all of who I am. The bad thing about it is that my professors don’t know this about me. I’m sure to them it seems like I’m just another student taking their class, but there are some things I wish they knew about me as a student in their class, struggling with mental health issues while trying to learn. These are the not-so pretty things I wish I had the courage to tell my professors:


I’m not finishing my homework because I’m embarrassed for you to see what I don’t know

I get stuck on one problem, and then I feel like the rest of my assignment is going to be garbage. I really don’t want anyone to see that! I don’t want anyone to see my struggle or my lack of understanding, but I especially don’t want the people teaching me to see this, because they’re way smarter than I am. I know that it’s important for my teachers to see what I’m not grasping, but part of me feels like they’ll just see me as a failure.

I imagine that, while looking at my homework, my professors are giving up on me, labeling me as a bad student. Just thinking about this makes me want to label myself a bad student, which I know I’m not.

I’m fidgeting in class because I’m close to having a panic attack, not because you’re boring me

I try to make an effort to nonverbally communicate with my professors whether I’m understanding their material or not, but sometimes I begin to fade. I’m not fading because I’m bored, and it’s rarely because I don’t understand – when I begin looking at my phone or messing with my hair or drawing on my notebook, I’m really just doing everything I can to not lose it. I feel sick, I have pains in my chest and I can’t breathe. It’s something I want no one to see, so I cover it up by distracting myself.

I just wish I could find a way to distract myself without looking like a bad student who’s more interested in Instagram than integrals. 

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I’m scared to talk to you in office hours because you’re so much smarter than I am

This idea I have of my professors being unapproachable is the number one thing I wish they knew about me. Oftentimes all I can think of in class is how small I am in comparison to my teachers. I think, “Compared to them, I know nothing, I’ve done nothing and therefore I am nothing.” I find myself planning to go to see them, but as soon I actually get ready to go I bail.

In the moement I feel like I’ll be able to be successful on my own, yet deep down I know I need to get my butt into office hours and ask a question that will probably take my professors two minutes to explain to me. 

I want to be successful in your class and I want you to like me, but I don’t know how to make you see that

These professors are teaching a subject I want to have a future in; obviously, I want to be successful. Part of my anxiety, though, makes me wonder constantly if I’m annoying someone, or if they think poorly of me. When it comes to my professors, this thought even goes so far as wondering if they think I’m incapable of achieving my dreams. 

I do a lot by myself to help my math career progress. I go to conferences, and I’ve joined math societies that are not often advertised to undergrad students. But these things will never replace the connection I could have with my professors, who have the real insights where I want to take my career. I’m not sure how just yet, but I know I need to find a way to make myself more open to approaching these intimidating teachers. 

The hard part about anxiety for me is that I constantly have to remind myself that my feelings are not facts, but I can’t shake them or bring myself to take action. I’m currently working with counselors from my university’s health network to challenge these thoughts to become a better student, and while I’m not expecting things for get better overnight (or even during one semester), it’s a task I’ve got my mind set on.