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How to reduce your anxiety in online classes

Text on image: Tips to reduce class anxiety as an online student

Navigate your student experience a bit more smoothly with 4 tried-and-true tips from an Oregon State Ecampus graduate

By Monique Lanier

If you’re anything like me, class anxiety is a real thing. Also, like me, I find it annoying, time-consuming and baffling. I still can’t figure out why I get so anxious in class, why my heart pounds every time I speak up, why I dread papers and tests, and why I sometimes ruminate on something I’ve said or an interaction I’ve had.

My logical self can assess the situation and realize I’m a normal, appropriate, reasonably sane person, but my anxiety has quite a different story it’s just dying to tell me. It’s quite an epic story, but I have to remember it is just a story.

I’m not a psychologist, a counselor or a trained specialist in class anxiety, but I can offer a few things I’ve learned as an Oregon State University Ecampus student and in my graduate studies at Harvard that can help.


I always roll my eyes at this suggestion. I think, “I’ve been breathing this whole time and I’m still anxious.” How could something so simple help a problem so all-consuming and maniacal?

But taking deep breaths and concentrating on those breaths reduces anxiety. When I slow down, take deep breaths and pay attention to my breathing, I feel better. This hasn’t “cured” me, but it does help.

Focus on learning class material instead of worries

For me, a lot of class anxiety revolves around my performance and my worth as a student: “Will I do well on the test? Will my peers think I’m foolish? Does the instructor think I’m failing? Did I miss something in the reading that everyone else understands? How should I phrase the question so it makes sense? Why do I suddenly forget all the material I knew an hour ago? Why does it seem like everyone else is so comfortable and I’m so anxious?”

These kinds of worries can be exhausting, making it more difficult to learn class material. When I catch myself in the anxiety loop, I acknowledge my worries and then try to turn my attention to learning. I find that when I focus on what I want to know about the material, and not how I’m performing, I relax and can more easily engage in my classes.

I know this isn’t always easy, but I do get some relief when I’m able to do it.

Balance school with other positive experiences

Take walks, get bougie lattes, spend time with loved ones, binge your favorite shows. Seriously, take some breaks. Remind yourself that you are more than your grades, your papers, your tests or your degree.

This has been one of the hardest things for me to learn. I thought that the more time I spent studying, the better prepared I would be, which meant the less anxious I would be. I often studied 12 hours a day, even more during finals. This kind of studying has not proved to be ideal; it had actually made me more anxious.

I’ve found that taking a walk or connecting with a friend — anything that reinforces positive experiences outside of class — has improved my confidence inside the classroom, online and in person. Even laying down for 10 minutes can reset my body and mind so I’m more relaxed and peaceful.

Balance — another suggestion I thought didn’t apply to me — has actually made things much better.

Connect with your instructor

I’ve found one of the best ways to reduce class anxiety is to establish a connection with the professor. Even a small connection can help. I’ll go to office hours and introduce myself or ask a question. I’ll send an email with questions about class materials or ask something about the syllabus and final projects, for example.

When a class first starts, I’m nervous to reach out to fellow students if I don’t know anyone, but instructors are always available and happy to help. Connecting with instructors always reduces my anxiety.

So if you have class anxiety and are looking for ways to reduce it, try some of these suggestions. Class anxiety is exhausting. You deserve a break from all that extra work.

Monique Lanier is a freelancer who also has a long history in writing, acting and music as a writer and performer. She earned her Oregon State University bachelor’s degree online and a master’s degree in theological studies from Harvard University. Read more about her educational journey.

1 Comment

  • Lonni Ivey says:

    I want to say that Monique has a way with words that many of us would love to have but cannot access the language needed to describe the ties between anxiety and academia. I know firsthand because I met her in an OSU e-campus course a few years ago, where we became friends. She provides this same high-level keen advice over the phone. 🙂 Taking breaks and breathing works. There is no need to be a perfectionist because that only causes more anxiety; remember that no one in this world is perfect. I hope many people find Monique’s advice helpful; I do.

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