SEL Skills Articles

School Frustration and Managing Anxiety

School Frustration and Managing Anxiety: if you’ve ever felt totally lost and hopeless in school, there are some things you can you do to flip that feeling around…

“It’s Like I’m Back in 4th Grade, Learning Long Division”

I recently had an experience (in fact, I’m still floundering my way through it) that took me right back to my days of dealing with school frustration and managing anxiety. Felt exactly the way I did when I was in fourth grade, learning long division.

Many students are now learning “new math” and are hopefully finding long division a bit more logical than I did as a 9 year-old. (Much to their parents’ chagrin, of course!) Back then, however, we just learned a series of “random” steps that seemed meaningless to me. I was horribly confused and totally overwhelmed. I felt stupid, like the end of my world was directly in front of me because I was NEVER going to “get it!” Gallons of tears were shed over my math book that year!

Fast forward a few decades and here I am… tackling a new project that is, for me, almost as overwhelming. Actually, it is just as overwhelming. The only difference is that I am now putting myself through the torture instead of having the torture “forced” upon me.

I will spare you some boring and unnecessary details, but I am taking a Google AdWords class to learn more about how to effectively promote this website. Trying to learn how to navigate around my account, analyze keywords, measure click-through and conversion rates, and deal with html has left me way out of my comfort zone.

I have learned a lot, but I am taking this class with people who are far more advanced than I am. I am feeling overwhelmed and, once again, like the “stupid kid” in the class.

Last week, I hit my peak of frustration on a coaching call with the instructor. He rattled off a dozen changes I need to make… immediately! I had done my homework and read my textbook, but he may as well have been speaking Latin. I was lost!

Hanging up the phone, I felt more confused and lost than I have in years. I hate to admit it, but the tears began to fall. For a brief second, there was no difference between that moment and the moments I experienced in 4th grade. (Well, at least now, I wasn’t making my mom frustrated, too!)

Fortunately, however, I have grown quite a bit since 4th grade and I have learned that those moments are just that… moments. They don’t last forever and there is ALWAYS a solution. Once I vented my frustration with a few tears, drank a tall glass of water, and took long nap, I was able to look at the situation with a fresh perspective.

Every time my mind wanted to say, “I’m so overwhelmed!” I would say, “I’m so overwhelmed, BUT I know I can figure out a solution.” Sure enough, I eventually figured out a couple of options and immediately began to feel better.

I am still in the process of playing “catch up,” but the hopelessness has disappeared with a renewed determination to get caught up and learn what I need to know. Yes, it is a little more difficult than I had anticipated, but I will be that much more proud of myself when I make it!

Destroy School Frustration and Anxiety

If you have ever experienced THAT feeling… when it seems you will NEVER understand something you are expected to learn and you are lost and frustrated… there are some things you can do to turn that feeling around:

  1. Notice that you are having an EMOTIONAL reaction to the situation. Let the emotions out (tears, anger, frustration, etc), then make a commitment to reset and come back to the problem. (Depending on the situation, the break might be 15 minutes, or it might be 24+ hours.)
  2. Identify the EXACT cause of your frustration. Just saying that “Long division is so hard!” will not help your situation. If you can say, “I can do the first two steps, but I don’t understand the third step,” you will be a lot more productive. This process helps you break down your frustration into smaller, easier issues.
  3. Tell yourself that you can do it! Anytime you start to say to yourself, “I can’t do this!” change that to, “This is hard, BUT I can do it!” You have to change the way you respond to your frustration, or you will never have the patience for step #4, which is most important…
  4.  Finally, determine how you can get help. Yes, this step often takes extra time and extra effort, but this is the step that gives you the power to accomplish anything you set your mind to!

In Conclusion…

I wish I could say that feeling lost, overwhelmed, or frustrated was an experience you outgrow as an adult. But, that is not the case. However, if you’re willing to learn how to build detours around these roadblocks, you WILL be successful… not only in school, but in every aspect of your life!

Are you an educator looking to teach your students how to deal with school frustration and anxiety?  Sign up for our “How Do I Feel?” Curriculum Kit, to get started exploring the SOAR® Social-Emotional Learning Curriculum.

To our students’ success,

Susan Kruger, M.Ed.
Co-founder and author of


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