How Not to Freak Yourself Out

Have you ever freaked yourself out  —  by imagining the worst when you had no evidence that it would actually happen? Students do that all the time. Part of my job as an academic coach is to help students parse out the difference between fantasy and reality.

Meet Roger, a 7th-grader who freaked himself out last week.

Recently, as Roger walked through my office door, I heard the “ding ding ding” of my iPhone text message. It was an alert from his mom, asking me to please talk to her son about his resistance to getting an older student who can act as Roger’s “homework tutor”.

Roger is a bright — and incredibly hyperactive — young man. It takes him forever to get through his otherwise easy homework because he can’t focus on one task for very long without getting engrossed in off-topic curiosities. He needs someone to sit next to him to keep him on task during homework, but apparently Roger was not excited about that tutor being a high school student.

Throwing a ball to him (to distract him from the fact that I was about to get personal), I asked him why he didn’t want the tutor.

He threw the ball back: “I’m afraid I’ll try and act cool around him. I’ll worry he’ll judge me.”

“You don’t worry about that with grownups like me?” I asked.

“No, just with kids close to my own age.”

That reasoning made sense, and I took a moment to commiserate. But then I added, “Have you met this high school student yet?”

“No,” Roger admitted.

“Well then, how do you know that you are going feel judged and want to impress him? Is it possible that you’re basing your reasoning on a fantasy that might not be true?”

Roger couldn’t argue with this kind of logic. “Yes, it’s possible.”

“Would it be reasonable to meet this high school student first, and postpone your freak out?”

Grinning, Roger responded, “Yes, that would be reasonable.”

Silence descended, as we were suddenly engrossed in our game of catch.

Finally, I broke the silence. “Ummmmm…. when are we going to stop throwing the ball?”

“Maybe when we’ve made a firm decision,” Roger responded.

“How will we know we’ve made a firm decision?” I asked.

Roger threw down his arms, letting the ball drop to the floor.

“What’s the firm decision?” I asked.

“That I will meet the high school student first and see what he’s like.”


One of the reasons I love academic coaching is that kids very often respond to reason! They just need someone (who is not their parents) who is willing to speak reasonably.

The next week when I checked in with Roger, he reported that the two high school students his mom found were great, and he’s happy with his decision.

Let’s Break It Down: 5 Tips To Keep Yourself From Freaking Out

Are you freaking yourself out right now with a fantasy about something bad that *might* happen, although you have no proof? Try these steps:

  1. Take a deep breath. Notice you’re freaking out.
  2. See if you can identify what you are thinking that’s causing you to freak out.
  3. Notice whether that thought is true. If you’re not sure, look for the proof.
  4. If you have no proof that it is true, decide on an action that will give you more information.
  5. Choose to delay your freak out until you have more info.

I’m not telling you NOT to freakout. I’m just suggesting that you delay it a little by thinking about what might be more true in this moment. You might discover that reality is much kinder than you think.

What is something you are freaking yourself out about? Do you have any other strategies for keeping your cool? I’d love it if you shared in the comments!

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