Why Online Classes Scare Me and What I'm Doing to Combat the Fear

 

We’re off to Zoom University this week and I’m not going to lie, it scares me. My first year of college was interrupted by a global pandemic, and I ended up back at home for half of my second semester. It still shocks me that this is all happening. There’s been a pit growing in my stomach since finding out that classes would be online this fall too, and that’s due to my anxiety and ADD. I struggle with online classes for a number of reasons and I’m aiming to rectify some of those issues this semester.

 

Online Classes and ADD

I won’t speak for everyone with ADHD/ADD, because it’s different for everyone, but in my experience, online classes leave me way less focused than I am in person. I’m much better at holding myself accountable when I don’t have the ability to mute myself and turn the camera off. In person, I can’t use my phone, zone out through the entire class, or literally get up and leave. I haven’t done two out of those three, but the thought has certainly crossed my mind. The computer hurts my eyes, my classmates start to mesh together into a blob because the screen is flat, and my room is full of things that demand my attention. Because my ADD overlaps with my anxiety, I end up feeling even more anxious about assignments because I can’t focus enough to get them done as fast as I want to. It’s almost comical that one side of me wants to get everything done ASAP, and the other wants to procrastinate by playing games. After a lot of research and a bit of practice, here’s what I’ve found helps me focus:

  • Toys: It’s pretty much the oldest trick in the book. On my desk, I have Silly Putty, two types of stress balls, an eight sided fidget toy, a fidget spinner, and a tangle toy. Variety is key for me. I get bored with one type of fidget all the time so I like to switch it up. I keep the toys below the camera, so as to not distract anyone else, and they allow me to focus my excess energy on my hands, and guide my attention back to class.

  • Rewards: It works with pets, so I thought I’d try it for myself, and so far it hasn’t failed me. If I don’t want to do something, my ADD makes it extremely difficult for me to do it. If I am interested in something, it gets done super quick. (Hence why I am able to write so many articles) This works for both homework and live classes. When I have a longer class I know I struggle to focus through, I give myself a reward of a break afterwards for the same duration as the class. Sometimes I watch an episode of Criminal Minds, sometimes I play with some makeup, sometimes I call a friend. It gives me something to look forward to and pushes me to work harder to earn the reward. The same goes for homework. Especially when I’m writing papers, I need to set daily goals for myself to make sure I finish on time and don’t leave too much for the last day or two before the due date. I typically try to write one to three pages a day and for every half hour I work, I allow myself 10 minutes of games on my phone. I’m a huge fan of Clash of Clans, so when there are big events in the game, this is my favorite reward to earn.

  • Naps: It’s so basic but so helpful to take a nap. There are many studies which have proved sleeping after studying actually improves recall. Especially after classes which exhaust me mentally, I like to look over my notes for a few minutes and then take a power nap. It solidifies the new information I’ve learned and gives me more ability to focus for the next assignment for the day.

 

Online Classes and Anxiety

My anxiety is very pronounced on the first day of school. It has been since I started sixth grade and realized I had no idea where my classes were. One benefit to online classes is I don’t have that problem anymore. A pitfall, however, is that I won’t be meeting my classmates and professors in person. For whatever reason, I find it more difficult to speak to people through technology than in person. My anxiety hits its peak right before I enter a zoom classroom. Something about maybe being too early, or too late always makes me nervous. If I’m early, my irrational thoughts tell me that the class was cancelled and I missed an email. If I’m late, everyone is staring at me. It’s all completely irrational and I tell myself that, but it doesn’t always make it go away. 

 

My biggest tip for handling this type of anxiety is meditation and essential oils. They aren’t 100% effective, but both have helped significantly in lowering my anxiety levels. I have meditated every day for the past eight months now, and the effects are mind blowing. I use an app called Smiling Mind which lets me track my progress. There are no in-app purchases, no memberships, no fees. They give you access to meditations for all ages and meditations for different situations, including sleep aid. I’ve found that meditation helps me to slow my mind down when my thoughts start racing, and calm my breathing when I feel panic attacks coming on. Of course, it isn’t foolproof, but it’s a powerful tool. The essential oils are triggers for dopamine and serotonin, which both calm you and make you happier. I personally use peppermint and lavender, but any scent you prefer will do the trick. Practice and routine are key when starting to meditate. Five to ten minutes a day is all it takes.

 

The other thing that helps with my anxiety is a written calendar system. I like to have a whiteboard or a corkboard in my room where I can update my to do list and color code based on importance. I use a green, yellow, red system where green means I have plenty of time and the assignment is fairly easy, yellow means it’s more time consuming, but I still have time, and red means I need to get my butt into high gear because I have to read by the next day or write a 10 page paper. Using a cork board works the same, but I pin index cards of varying colors to the board as I get new assignments. I get super anxious when I have to remember all of my homework assignments, so seeing them all laid out on a calendar makes it less daunting. Similar to how I write my essays with the reward system, I like to choose which assignments I will do on which days. This keeps me from falling behind and also forces me to keep to a schedule (which is helpful for the anxiety and the ADD). I can always finish things ahead of time, but I can’t push an assignment on my calendar unless it’s thoroughly justified. Accountability is key!

 

Online Classes and Motivation

Staying motivated is super difficult when you’re at home. Especially once you’ve been on campus and experienced education without parental supervision, it’s hard to create a similar routine back at home. There are so many ways to stay motivated from home, you just have to find what works for you.

  • Take time for yourself: Me time is my favorite time. I am very introverted, meaning I can be around people for limited amounts of time before I need a break to recharge my social battery. This includes time I spend in online classes. Human interaction takes it out of me! Me time activities range from watching a rom-com and knitting, to putting on a full face of makeup and having a photoshoot by myself. Anything that makes me happy that I can do by myself helps me recharge.

  • Stay organized: I find that when my room is a mess I have more difficulty focusing. Keep your books and supplies in order, keep up with laundry, and remember to clean your workspace. It’s hard to be motivated when all you see is a pile of stuff that needs to be done. Spread out your tasks so you don’t get stuck doing it all at once. Then breathe a sigh of relief when you realize you have less to do than you thought.

  • Make plans: Of course, we can’t go out like we used to due to the pandemic, but you can still make plans. Schedule a Zoom meeting with some close friends, find a club you enjoy, or plan an outing you can go on safely. For my CT and RI friends, I recommend the Book Barn in Niantic, CT, and the Fantastic Umbrella Factory in Charlestown, RI. Both are indoor and outdoor locations which require visitors to wear masks at all times, so you can have fun safely. By planning an outing or virtual gettogether, you’re giving yourself something to look forward to. This is something to work for during the week. Once you get through a week of homework and classes, you are essentially rewarding yourself with an adventure, and you’re more likely to push yourself more. 

 

In conclusion, our current situation sucks, but whether we like it or not we’re stuck with it. Since we’re stuck with it, we might as well make the best of it and figure out how to navigate through the new challenges we’re facing. Good luck with a new semester everyone. We can do it!