An Anxious Student View of Digital Classes

By Sarah Weinstock

*This op-ed piece was written about my personal experience with anxiety, while fully understanding that no one person experiences anxiety the same.

One may think that staying at home would calm an anxious mind in the upcoming online semester. However, many people with high anxiety find comfort in familiar routines. I have “trained” years for in-person classes, and understand what will most likely occur on a regular day. For many people with anxiety, the first day of classes is often the most difficult. On the first day, I am plunged into a world of meeting new people, introducing myself in front of the class, and obsessing about finding the perfect seat. All of these things take weeks of self-encouragement to get ready for. Having the ability not to overthink the social aspect of in-person courses can be relieving. I will be in my chosen space that I find comfortable, and I know I won’t be sitting in the wrong classroom. However, that comfort adds many unknown factors to the semester.

Online classes do ease some of the anxieties of first-day jitters, but now I am faced with new obstacles. While I will be able to participate in courses in the comfort of my chosen study space, I am faced with a whole new form of introductions that I have not grown accustomed to. Although I dread in-person introductions, I am used to them. With Zoom calls, it is free for all when it comes to who gets called on for introductions. With an in-person class, one may be able to scope out where they sit for the best possible spot. A seat that they would avoid being called on first or left to be the last one to introduce themselves. I am anxious about how others perceive me on their computers and fear that the social cues I rely on to have people understand me will be lost. Even though I should be used to Zoom classes from last semester, I started that semester in-person, and I knew and understood my classmates and professor before going online. 

I believe the best thing my anxiety has gifted me is the fear of being late. I am constantly at least fifteen minutes early to any class. However, with Zoom classes, I’m never quite sure when is the right time to show up to the meeting. Last semester, I often found myself getting to my computer thirty minutes before class time and making sure I had everything I needed for class. That meant I had the invitation to the meeting open, notebook by my side, and comfy seat. At this point, the reader may think that’s usually what everyone does before class, but I may take it one step further. I take into consideration anything that is behind me and rearrange my wall, so if someone looks into my screen, they see what I want them to see. I have taken steps like opening my camera before class to place my computer in a spot and plan my surroundings accordingly, including myself, to where I am not too far but not too close to the camera. I hyper analyze and prepare for the maybe second I am on someone’s screen. As my mom and therapist would say, “ Why do you think someone cares that much about you?” It’s a question that I do not have the answer for, but if it is not done, I will continuously stare at myself, wondering what else I should have done. The things that go through my head include, 

“Should I smile or look serious? But I look horrible serious.” 

“Should I wear my glasses, so it is not just my face on the screen?” 

“Why does the camera always highlight my acne?”

 “Are people seeing the chew marks my childhood cat made on my chair and still think I have a cat?” 

These are most likely irrational thoughts, but in my head, something everyone is thinking about me.

Another excellent quality I believe my anxiety had gifted me is that I also overthink other people’s feelings. This attribute, I think, has made me into someone who strives to understand and empathize with others. An attribute not just to people with high anxiety, however, I believe me thinking about it for hours after the interaction is not standard. This means I don’t stare into other people’s squares, even though they would never know I was looking at them. I rarely speak because of the prospect of interrupting someone, and in Zoom calls, one unintended word can cause a whirlwind of confusion—all of these things I overthink about throughout the whole class.

 Going into this semester while I am fully online, I plan to make a schedule just as I  would as if I were on campus. The world is filled with things that I will not be able to prepare for or schedule. I will take this semester to learn new coping mechanisms for my anxiety and deal with the new hurdles thrown at me. What we should all remember when starting the new semester (whether you are in person, hybrid, or all online) is that we are all going through this uncharted territory together. We all have our different anxieties about the semester because we now have to try to be studious. Simultaneously, the pandemic is still active, civil rights are rightfully being fought for, and it is one of the most crucial election years most of us will ever live through. We have to practice self-care and recognize that we can still overexert ourselves even from behind a computer screen and in our own home’s comfort. Remember to wash your hands, ask for help, and know that we are all in this together.

  Sarah is a first-year MA Women’s History student at Sarah Lawrence College. She will be starting her first semester online from her home California. Her academic interests include LGBTQ+ history and Women’s suffrage movements and has particularly focused on the Irish Suffrage Movement. 

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