How To Get Students Back On Track After Getting Behind In School Work

The school year is in full swing and a lot of students are starting to feel the pressure of their school work weigh on them. School anxiety is very common for students who put a lot of pressure on themselves to do things perfectly. When they do not feel like they are doing things perfectly, they can get stuck in one place. They then start to over analyze and perfect everything. Since there is no such thing as perfection, these students usually start to fall behind in their school work. Usually being behind in school work will increase anxious feelings and then this cycle continues throughout the school year.

Anchor Therapy is a counseling center in Hoboken, NJ with psychotherapists specialized to help children, teens, adults, and couples with anxiety, depression, trauma, and life transitions.

I specialize in helping students to stay accountable with their goals. Usually a goal for a student with school anxiety is to attend all of their classes, complete all of their homework, and do well on exams, papers, and projects. However, when one of these things does not get done, they feel like they can’t keep going. Usually when someone gets overwhelmed about not completing something on time or in the “perfect” way then they get stuck on it. It is definitely possible to get stuck like this for weeks. This is how having a therapist or counselor can help keep you accountable by noticing when you are stuck and get you out of it sooner rather than later. If you don’t get out of it, then you will most likely never hand in that late assignment. This will cause you to constantly agonize over it and then you get a 0 grade for it.

Below are some ways you can get yourself out of this feeling of being stuck so that you can move on and find success in your future school work.

  1. Notice that you are stuck and anxious:

    This is the first step. You will first need to notice that you are having a problem in the first place. For a lot of students with anxiety, they don’t recognize that what they are experiencing is anxiety. They just overall feel stressed or overwhelmed and that’s a typical feeling of most students so they try to ignore it and suck it up. But what happens when you ignore anxiety is that the feelings can get worse and worse. When you are feeling so overwhelmed about school, you are going to get stuck on assignments and it will be really hard to keep going if you become late in handing something in. The sooner you notice that you are in this bad situation, the better.

  2. Work through your anxious thoughts using CBT skills:

    There is something called Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) that we specialize in at Anchor Therapy. The CBT skills that you can try yourself would be to notice your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. When you are anxious you maybe thinking, “I already missed the due date on this paper… I still don’t know what to write for it… it’s never going to be perfect… my teacher’s going to be mad at me… I might as well not do it…I feel bad not doing it though…” All of these thoughts are anxious thoughts. You are stuck in your head over analyzing this late paper rather than just getting the paper done. This causes you to be stuck and will most likely cause you to start missing more assignments and missing more classes in the future.

    Once you can recognize these anxious thoughts, you want to challenge them and their reality. Is there really such a thing as a perfect paper? Is it really better to never hand it in and receive a 0 score rather than hand it in late and receive partial credit? You want to sort through your anxious thoughts and explain to yourself that that’s all they are- thoughts. Not all of your thoughts are true.

    Once you can sort through your anxious thoughts, then you can start to feel less anxious. When you start to feel less anxious, your behaviors will follow. In this case, your behavior is to write your paper and turn it in late. When you sort through all of the excuses in your head preventing you from getting it done, you will be able to see that this is just a late paper and it’s better to get it done sooner than later so you can receive some credit for it and move on.

  3. Acknowledge your mistakes and move past it:

    No one is perfect. You have to accept this and realize that if you get behind in your school work it is not the end of the world. You are able to get back on track. You must not ignore this feeling of discomfort and disappointment in yourself. You can work through it and then move past it, and you will. Maybe in the past you got behind on an assignment and then it derailed the rest of your semester or school year. Well, this time you are going to change that. You will work on one assignment at a time, one class at a time, and you will get yourself back on track. By doing one thing at a time, and taking breaks, this can help you get it done and make it feel less overwhelming.

  4. Get help:

    It is hard to hold yourself accountable. Think of a time when you told a friend, family member, teacher, etc. that you were going to get something done. Now think about when you told yourself you were going to get something done. It is a lot harder to hold yourself accountable since you’re only letting yourself down and you can handle that. But when you let someone else down, you feel more shame and disappointment. This is why I recommend telling someone else that you are behind on an assignment and you plan to get it done by Friday. Now you have someone who is holding you accountable. This person is expecting you to get it done by Friday and that will help push you past your anxious thoughts and help you focus on actually getting words down on a page. The goal is to just get the assignment started and take it from there.

  5. It does not have to be perfect, just get it done:

    This is the biggest thing that you have to remember. There is no such thing as perfection. You are pushing yourself to achieve something that doesn’t even exist. When it comes to school, you want to do as best as you can. But getting an A- vs. an A is not going to break or ruin your future. If you are past the due date on an assignment, you can still get it done for partial credit. At that point, you just want to hand in something. Get out of your perfection mindset so that you can finish the assignment, hand it in, and move past this. Think of this as a restart and moving forward you will attend all of your classes and try to complete all of your assignments on time- even if they don’t feel “perfect” to you.

When it comes to school anxiety, many students put a lot of pressures on themselves to be perfect. When these students fall behind in school, they feel stuck and become even more overwhelmed. A mental health professional can help coach a student through this so that they don’t stay stuck for long and can restart in a way that they feel motivated and successful moving forward.

At Anchor Therapy, we specialize in seeing students (school-aged, teens in high school, and young adults in college and graduate school). Students of all ages feel pressure and sometimes need that bit of extra help to help guide them through the school year.


Psychotherapist Hoboken Courtney Glashow

Courtney Glashow, LCSW

is a licensed psychotherapist practicing in Hoboken, New Jersey. She specializes in helping teens and adults with anxiety, depression, and life transitions through counseling. Courtney can help NY or NJ residents through telehealth (video/phone) therapy sessions as well.

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