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Anxiety and Teaching

Updated: Aug 12, 2019

Breathe in, one... two... three... Breathe out one... two... three...

I repeat this mantra as the tell tale signs anxiety creep through my body. My emotions are a cup spilling over. I know there isn’t a true lump in my throat, but my mind plays tricks on me and it’s like I can’t breathe.

Breathe in one... two... three...

My vision turns spotty and the panic is rising, my fingertips tingling, and though I try to stop it, the sensation travels up my arms until my entire torso is buzzing with nervous energy. The buzzing crawls up my neck, as if a thousand bees are trapped under my skin and trying to escape. I feel them on my lips, a kiss of terror. As the buzzing vibrates under my tight, hot skin a chill snakes through my bloodstream. My hands cramp into fists. My head is so light and I’ve forgotten my mantra. There’s just white noise and the tears spilling out of my eyes. I’ve lost control over my body.

This is what my panic attacks feel like. My first experience of this kind happened my freshman year of high school, at a drama club garage sale. That morning I had a sugary coffee beverage that incited the incident. I remember my heart pumping fast and then suddenly feeling that tingling sensation from my waist up—similar to what a person gets if they’ve been sitting on their foot too long and move positions and phantom pins and needles poke at their foot as blood returns to the appendage. A father of one of the other drama students was a Boy Scout troupe leader and recognized my symptoms. He lay me on the ground, put my feet up on a chair, and maintained eye contact with me telling me to breathe in... one... two... three... Breathe out... one... two... three...

Almost nine years later and I still experience these attacks to varying degrees. It’s easy to live my life in fear. Society makes it easy. There is a lot to worry about. However, these fears are not what I am afraid of. My anxieties stem from emotional turmoil that may have a rational seed but have since sprouted and spread into irrational chaos. The most terrifying aspect of my attacks are—they come out of nowhere. I will be fine one moment and the next I can’t breathe. It’s as if I cannot trust my own body.

After these attacks I am emotionally and physically depleted but I am also embarrassed. I am the kind of person that wants to be seen as put together and in control.

Public speaking has always caused me anxiety. I even did Speech and Debate and still my heart would start to pound, palms would sweat, and a stream of oh no oh no oh no oh no would play through my head like a ticker tape sign. So after I got my TEFL certification and moved to Germany and was told I was going to be teaching a class of 10 adult students my mind immediately went back to that moment of oh no oh no oh no oh no.

So what do I do to help my anxiety?


1. Yoga and Meditation

With anxiety it’s easy to feel disengaged from the world. Yoga is a great way to connect the mind and the body and the breath and feel more grounded.

Yoga with Adriene is a free channel that you can subscribe to on YouTube.

Adriene has yoga for everything, be it a 10-minute morning wake up stretch sequence to an hour-long flow workout. She also has an amazing Yogi Tea recipe (see number 5).

This is a meditation app you can download on your phone. They have thousands of free content for stress and anxiety, connection, health and happiness, motivation, recovery and healing, performance and more!

2. Realize it’s okay to admit you don’t know something

I don’t know about you guys, but I have this idea that an instructor should know everything about the subject they are teaching. But starting out, you’re learning and growing too. It’s okay if a student asks a question and you don’t know the answer. What you can do is tell them: “Good question. I will check and get back to you next class.” This is not the end of the world and students will not think less of you for doing it. In fact, they will probably appreciate the extra effort you are putting in.

3. The Power of Positive Thinking

This one might sounds a little cheesy, but it’s amazing what a little positive self-talk can do to get in the right mindset for facing your fears. Come up with a mantra to get yourself going, something like: I am a certified TEFL teacher, I am prepared, I got this.

4. Talk to People

I can guarantee that you are not the only new (or even seasoned!) teacher to feel anxiety, be it about the first day of class, lesson planning, etc. The great thing about teaching, and teaching abroad, is that there is a network of people who know what you are going through. Don’t be afraid to reach out and talk about your fears or struggles.

5. Drink Tea

I am an avid tea drinker and find the process of making a warm beverage very soothing. There are many natural herbal tea remedies that can help you relax. Remember that Yogi tea I mentioned before? Excellent choice. Though when making it be careful about the caffeine content, which can heighten anxiety for certain people. Some amazing caffeine free options are a cup of calming peppermint, chamomile, or a concoction of fresh ginger, honey and lemon.

6. Show Up

No matter what scenario you’ve come up with in your head, the reality is not going to be as bad. Show up to class, meet your students, face your fears head on. I’ve been teaching in the classroom for over half a year now and I still get a little anxious when assigned a new class. The thing to remember is that your students are there to learn English and will probably be nervous and/or nervous about speaking in the beginning . Have fun, talk to them about their lives, ask questions and create a fun, relaxed and engaging environment so that everyone is comfortable. Teaching is such a rewarding job. You get immediate feedback if a method is or isn’t working and can adjust accordingly. It is a great way to connect with people and make a difference.

7. Smile and take a deep breath. You got this!




Claire currently lives in Bonn, Germany. She is a freelance English teacher. She holds B.A. from the University of Montana in English-Creative Writing and a minor in International Development Studies. Claire also runs an English book club and hosts weekly meetups her students to practice English in the Bonn area.

For inquiries please contact:

Facebook: @bonnenglishbookclub

Instagram: claire.venery

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