How to Manage Past Class PTSD

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Written by Brenna

2021: a new decade (mathematically speaking), a new semester, and new resolutions you’ve set for yourself to accomplish. 

But, what do you do when you find that the horrors of a past class are starting to impact your confidence in your current classes? How do you convince yourself that you can move beyond a bad teacher or grade? In other words, what does it mean to have past class PTSD?

You may not find past class PTSD in any psychology textbook. But students can absolutely have lingering issues from a previous class that affect them now. These issues can even cause them to avoid taking tougher courses in a specific field. 

Past class PTSD could have been caused by a teacher who may have told you, “I don’t know why you don’t get this; it’s so easy,” or simply did not like you as a student. It could have been caused by difficult course content, challenging classroom situations, or poor curriculum.

Whatever the cause, if you’re struggling with past class PTSD, there are ways you can take action now to give yourself a better shot at the future. As someone who spent years dealing with math PTSD, I can say firsthand that I could have avoided a lot of stress by trying out these tricks.

  1. Identify That You Have Past Class PTSD

As any psychologist or therapist will tell you, the first step in solving a problem is recognizing that you have one. Begin by acknowledging that you might be experiencing past class PTSD. 

This acknowledgment can take many forms. It might involve writing or stating out loud that you are experiencing anxiety or negative emotions with respect to a certain subject or former class. If you can, articulate what those negative emotions are (frustration, anger, fear, apathy, etc.).

Once you’ve done this, it’s often natural to next identify the root cause of these emotions and difficult feelings (i.e., My experience in Algebra 1 last year really caused me to associate math with anxiety). What has led to these emotions? 

  1. Acknowledge What’s Painful

Next, you can try acknowledging what about that past class or teacher was so painful for you. Again, write down what you found to be the issue (such as a difficult topic or an intimidating teacher) and if you’ve noticed anything similar in the current class you are taking that’s making you feel the same. 

Even if this sounds silly to you, it’s important to recognize that being in a similar situation to what has previously caused you pain can result in your brain trying to prepare itself to deal with that same pain (whether or not this discomfort actually happens). 

  1. Time to Address It

Finally, once you are able to assess what it is about the current class that is causing you to feel stressed, address it and try to find a solution. 

Maybe this means going to your teacher after school and talking through some of the more challenging material for you (this will also show your instructor that you’re really invested in learning, which teachers love). Or you might decide to work with a friend who is acing the class or enlist the help of a tutor. 

Sometimes smaller techniques can be helpful too, such as deep breathing, mindfulness exercises, and positive self-talk within the context of a specific class.

Whatever you choose to do, make sure that it’s a positive step that will help you combat these feelings when they do pop up (and they always have a tendency to crop up more than once) and head them off before they get a chance to spend too much time in your head rent-free.

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