Thursday, June 23 2022

Annie Bolin

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States, especially on college campuses.

The ADAA reported in 2015 that 30% of college students believed anxiety had a negative impact on their academic performance.

Common anxiety disorders include performance and social anxieties, which can impact how well students do in public speaking and other performance-based college courses.

Possibly presenting obstacles for UMKC students with anxiety disorders, an introductory course in public speaking is required for all communication majors.

UMKC Associate Professor and Undergraduate Advisor Dr. Linda Kurz has considerable experience teaching public speaking to students with anxiety disorders.

Kurz has seen two students pass out during his public speaking classes in recent years. Another student had to take two Valiums before each class, and another nearly forfeited graduation to avoid taking a public speaking class.

“It’s a real fear that shouldn’t be taken lightly,” Kurz said, adding that “students shouldn’t be harshly criticized for having this anxiety.”

Although public speaking anxiety can impact a student’s performance in class, Kurz still thinks these classes should be mandatory.

Kurz explained that public speaking classes offer tools for leadership and effective interpersonal communication, rather than just speaking.

“It’s also about learning to listen, to give positive feedback, to organize your thoughts in a logical and concise way,” Kurz said.

Kurz suggested thorough preparation as a coping method for students struggling with anxiety, adding that positive visualization exercises can also help.

UMKC Counseling Services Psychologist Dr. Rachel Pierce agreed that the mandatory public speaking classes are a positive addition to the program.

“When a person has extreme anxiety, they tend to avoid what makes them anxious,” Pierce said. “The course can become a semester-long exhibition activity.”

Although some students may find that their anxiety improves on its own when they practice public speaking, Pierce added that treatment and other counseling are always beneficial.

Senior Alita Thornburg offers a different perspective.

Thornburg, a communication major who is currently taking a required course in public speaking, suggests anxious students look to interpersonal communication courses.

“Right now I’m in a group dynamics course on just communicating with people, and I think that’s a very valuable skill to have, especially in larger companies,” Thornburg said.

Although the required public speaking courses at UMKC do not fall outside the curriculum, students struggling with the pressures of public speaking are encouraged to seek help.

Kurz emphasized the power of the animal-human connection to deal with anxiety. Kurz’s dog, Max, is a registered therapy dog ​​and took his public speaking lessons as part of a study on the link between student anxiety and therapy animals.

“Just Max’s presence and coming into the class seemed to help relieve a lot of the anxiety,” Kurz said. “The students seemed really eager to come to class.”

Pierce noted that counseling services offer individual and group therapy for students with anxiety, but students can also practice mindfulness techniques on their own.


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