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Difficulties with Managing Anxiety/Stress

Difficulties with Managing Anxiety/Stress - adjustments to practice

Anxiety is a feeling of dread or panic.

Stress is the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressure or other types of demand placed on them. It is important to note that what causes stress for one person might be pleasurable for another, for example, flying or public speaking.

Anxiety and stress are normal human emotions and can help us respond appropriately in stressful situations (flight or fight). We tend to notice these emotions only when they occur in excess. Many people adapt to very high levels of anxiety and stress; they may not feel they have a problem until they compare themselves with others who are in the same situation but who are less worried.

Anxiety is considered to be abnormal if it:

    • is out of proportion to the stressful situation;
    • persists when a stressful situation has gone, or the stress is minor;
    • appears for no apparent reason when there is no stressful situation.

Anxiety and stress can take different forms and expressions, including:

    • General anxiety (being anxious about aspects of life);
    • Worry (continually thinking over a problem beyond what is needed to produce a solution);
    • Specific anxiety (anxiety over a certain situation – e.g. exams, social situations, etc);
    • Phobia (an excessive fear of a particular situation or item leading to avoidance);
    • Hypochondria (an anxiety about suffering illness);
    • Panic attacks (a sudden uncontrollable triggering of physical anxiety symptoms).

These forms can be chronic (i.e. be in the background and have a long history) or can be acute (i.e. be sharp and in the present), or they could combine elements of both.

Potential stressful situations

  • participating in group work
  • examinations
  • meeting deadlines for assignments
  • starting work placements
  • giving oral presentations

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Difficulties with Managing Anxiety/Stress - adjustments to practice

These strategies are suggestions for inclusive teaching and training. This list should not be considered exhaustive and it is important to remember that all learners are individuals, and good practice for one person may not necessarily be good practice for another. If you have any good practice that you would like to add to this list, please email your suggestions to

Environmental Factors

  • Provide a quiet study space for learners if required.
  • Encourage a supportive environment and activities that can accommodate individuals when they find social interaction problematic.
  • In the learning environment, be mindful of extremes in temperatures (hot and cold), bad smells, poor lighting (too bright or dim), or overcrowding which can add to learners' stress levels.

Learning Resources

  • Provide learners with plenty of information regarding assignments and examinations.
  • Plan flexible course content to respond to variations in capacity to learn, attendance, etc.

Course Delivery

  • Establish routines for learners, notify them of impending changes well in advance and go through planned changes with them to reduce anxiety, such as a change of room or change of teacher or trainer.
  • Avoid putting individuals in stressful or embarrassing situations e.g. asking them to read aloud in a group setting.
  • Enable people to have immediate success in learning.
  • Discussion of personal issues can occur in certain classes, and teachers and trainers may begin to take on the role of other professionals inappropriately, such as counsellors. Teachers and trainers need to be clear about the extent of their role and know when and how to refer learners to the appropriate person.
  • Encourage problem solving attitudes that will help individuals dismantle the larger problems into lots of smaller ones and then to resolve them by practical steps. E.g. small steps to deal with a large anxiety over presentations could include: discussion of the anxiety with them; observation of others; preparing the subject; rehearsing in private; recording the presentation; practising before a friend; getting as relaxed as possible on the day; giving the presentation.
  • Suggest individuals take a measure of how they react in different situations, such as giving presentations or examinations, and review with them what they found particularly worrying.
  • Be sensitive to the fact that some people will find it very difficult to work in a group: do not force participation.
  • Provide practice, reassurance and possibly extra time for formal assessments, and consider providing alternative assessment approaches when appropriate.
  • Allow sufficient time for learners to adjust to new situations and show their full potential.

General Guidance

  • Encourage learners to seek support for their anxieties e.g., study skills and exam strategies training, or speaking to a counsellor about personal anxiety.
  • Encourage individuals to seek general stress management and relaxation training as they may increase confidence and well-being, and therefore the ability to cope more easily.
  • Deal sensitively with personal information and focus on what is needed to help them to learn.
  • If people are avoiding certain situations because of anxiety, consider exposing them to the situation in small but increasing steps.
  • Establish a good relationship and give plenty of encouragement.
  • Some individuals may experience changes in behaviour that may create an uncomfortable situation in the learning environment. It is better to allow them to withdraw, if they wish to, rather than feel obliged to manage the behaviour, which could lead to confrontation. This behaviour is more likely to be caused by external circumstances rather than the current learning situation.


Adjustments for Assessments taken under Examination Conditions

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Managing Anxiety/Stress

ADHD, Autistic Spectrum Disorder, Dyspraxia, Learning Disabilities, Mental Health Difficulties

Group Work Activities, Literacy Related Activities, Numeracy Related Activities, Practical Activities, Visual Activities, e-Learning/ICT Activities
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