The Student Within: 3 Ways to Cope with Anxiety

Mike Pfaff, teacher, actor and motivational speaker shares some of his insights from his forthcoming book, The Student Within.

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Mike Pfaff, teacher, actor and motivational speaker shares some of his insights from his forthcoming book, The Student Within.

We asked Mike Pfaff how students deal with anxiety. As a teacher, Mike is in touch with students daily and his interactions prompted him to write his forthcoming book, The Student Within, as a guide to students (and their parents) to achieve educational and life goals more easily, or as Mike puts it “the art and science of easier learning” so as to bridge the gap between teens’ classrooms and their education.

You can learn more about Mike Pfaff at his website:

Mike Pfaff: To understand how to manage anxiety, we first have to understand the nature of it. Anxiety is defined as “a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.” Think about that again for a moment: “a feeling of worry or unease about something with an uncertain outcome.” It is human nature to want to feel in control of our lives and all the events that unfold in them. While I do believe in the law of attraction and that we evoke into our lives that which we are thinking, feeling and desiring, nobody can predict exactly what will happen. If that were possible, we’d be seeing more psychics at the horse races. Therefore, the key to managing anxiety, no matter how much of it you’re feeling, is to recognize what is within your control and what isn’t. Once you have that figured out, your job is to put your focus and energy onto what you can control. Also, learning to embrace and take pleasure in the process and journey over the outcome and destination will turn anxiety into engagement and nervousness into pleasure.

Focus on the Right Hand Side

This isn’t about your brain but this does require some thought nonetheless. Take a piece of paper and think about something that has you anxious. It can be almost anything, such as an upcoming test, or an obnoxious student, or sports tryout, or whatever. For our example, let’s use the test. At the top of this paper, write “Test” and then make two columns underneath, shaped like a “T”. In the left side column, list all the factors about this test for which you have no control. You might write something like “I have no idea what the teacher will ask”, or “What type of test will this be?”, or “How much will this test count towards a final grade?”

In the right-hand side column, list all the factors about the test that you can control. “I can study to be prepared for the test.”, or “I can relax my mind and stay focused on what I learned.”, or “I can work with other students beforehand.”

Once you have your two lists, put a large “X” through the left-hand side, effectively crossing out these factors and erasing them from your mind as well. Focus instead on the right side column completely, to those factors you can control and affect through your own actions. Soon, if you do this often enough, you’ll see the left side columns are getting smaller, and you will shift your focus almost automatically to the right side.

Prepare yourself

It is through preparation that we acquire confidence. Just like an Olympic runner trains for the main event, the 24-mile marathon, we all need to prepare ourselves to face a certain moment in life where we have anxiety. Let’s go back to the test again for this example. Let’s imagine your test is that grueling marathon, and your job is to complete it. Every athlete goes through rigorous training, with nutrition, exercises, meditation, and so on. So too should you be prepared for this test. On the day of the test, for example, you should have a good breakfast. On the day the test is announced, take a little time each day to review notes and past homework, and use mental exercises or tricks to keep answers in memory.

Another good way to be prepared for anxieties of any type, is to mentally train yourself through meditation. Meditation trains the mind to block, dodge and move around negative thoughts to find your pathway toward productive thinking. Keep in mind, you’re not dodging the test in your mind — you’re simply dodging the negative aspects of it, just like you did with the columns in the previous section. Once your mindset is in a positive state, you won’t be anxious about the test at all, and in fact you will become more productive with your time you spent worrying.

Be productive

Use that nervous energy toward productivity. The mere act of doing something rather than nothing is empowering in itself. Progress of any kind is motivating, reassuring and productive. By taking some sort of directed action you will be making progress and will enjoy all the benefits that come with it. As TV actor/director Richard Kline once said, “Confidence is preparation. Everything else is beyond your control.” The longer you study, train, practice, and mentally rehearse for anything challenging in your life, the more confident you will be not only in that situation, but all others as well. So if an upcoming test is really bothering you, gain your confidence through preparation, and then do something productive that can count as an accomplishment, and a positive feeling about yourself — and that pesky test you were so worried about.

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