Trigger warning: This article contains information about experiencing a panic attack and/or mental health which may be triggering to survivors.
Have You Ever Struggled With A School-Related Panic Attack?
I’ve had times when I was seriously stressing over grades, and it was not pretty. I had a panic attack.
For me it was organic chemistry.
The first time around.
There came a point in the semester when my grade in the class was so low I experienced a panic attack. Sadly, I had convinced myself my academic life was over because I was doing so poorly. I had incredible tutoring from a Chemistry graduate student–sometimes even tutors need tutors! But by the time I discovered his classes, it was too late in the semester.
I was miserable.
I remember one night in particular.
My mom was having a girls’ night with some friends and they all came to pick me up from tutoring. They were a big, friendly bunch hyped up on friendly company. I was doing my best not to cry and ruin their get together. Besides, I didn’t want to freak out with them all in the car, and I was doing an ok job of it… until one of them asked me if I was ready for my exam. It was like the floodgates opened and I started to cry. Not a pretty crying either. A gross crying where I could barely breathe.
Of course they all freaked out.
I cried so much it evolved into a panic attack. My eye began twitching, my upper lip went numb, and my hands broke out in hives. They had no idea what to do with me and kept saying that school and grades aren’t everything. Inevitably, their girls’ night was ruined, spent trying to make me feel better. But they just made me feel worse. After all, everybody I knew was stressing out over grades and they were doing better than I was! When you’re pre-med every grade counts! I felt like my future as a doctor was slipping through my fingers.
Flash forward a few years.
I was tutoring a high school freshman, R, and his older brother, K. I did a full Saturday session with them to prepare them for a coming biology test. By the end, I was feeling confident that they felt prepared for their test. We wrapped up the session and planned to meet again the next morning for a final cram session before their exam on Monday. I left their home and went on with my day but later that night I received a text from their mom asking if I could arrive a few minutes early the next day to talk to R. She confessed that he was very stressed out and upset about the exam and needed some reassuring.
Poor R was in the same shoes I had been in years ago! So I arrived the next day, told him my story about Organic Chemistry, and gave him the pep talk I’m here to give you today. The pep talk I wish someone who had “been there, done that” had been able to give me my junior year in college.
The truth of the matter is this:
Yes, school is important. Of course it is! But your priority should always be your mental and physical health.
When I was having a hard time with organic chemistry, I let chemistry become my entire world. I let my physical and mental health go. I ate more junk food so I wouldn’t have to leave the library to buy a proper meal. I sacrificed sleep so I could stay up studying. Even when I was in bed, I would stay up late, wheels turning in my head with all the possible things that could happen if I failed. I gave up the activities that made me feel happy because I would feel guilty that I was socializing instead of studying. And guess what?
I still failed.
Bummer huh? But I didn’t write this blog post to be demoralizing. On the contrary, my goal is to remind you where your priorities should be. I failed the class but guess what didn’t happen. The world didn’t end, I wasn’t disowned by my family or kicked out of school. I didn’t even lose my scholarships! My GPA was high enough from my other good grades that it was able to tolerate the “D” I earned.
The next semester I took the class again.
I remember they day they released grades like it was yesterday. I had gone shoe shopping with of my mom’s friends from “that night.” We were sitting in the car driving home. She was talking to my mom on the phone so I decided to check my final grade. I didn’t want to ruin my fun shopping day, but I knew that if I didn’t check, I would just keep stressing over grades until I got up the courage to check. Thanks to consistent tutoring from day 1 and my best friend as a study partner, I ended the semester with a B. I was so happy and overwhelmed I started crying as I showed her my phone screen. She started screaming and laughing, filling my mom in on the news. Now, I know a “B” may not sound like much, but it represented a huge win for me.
After so many months of struggle, stressing over grades, crying, and a panic attack (or more), I had earned a B! More importantly, this “B” allowed me to stay on track for a Biology degree on the pre-med track.
So please, if you’re stressing over grades, struggling with classes, feel like you’re drowning and won’t be able to make it through the semester, talk to your parents, a teacher, or even me! Reach out to someone and ask for help. Having a tutor can make a difference in not only your grades, but your confidence, happiness, and overall well-being in school.
With all my support,
Author: Stephanie Ortega
Stephanie is a behavior analyst and tutor with over a decade of experience in helping children. She creates planners and worksheets for the organizer within us all, maintains a blog, and runs two start-ups. She’s also a doodler and puppy and cat mom who enjoys travel and learning new things.