The Tutor Portland Podcast is a show where we sit down with Portland locals to talk all things education and the arts.

In our first-ever episode of the Tutor Portland Podcast, host Brian Grant sits down with Dr. Amelia Wilcox, a fourth-generation Portlander, psychological clinician, and cognitive scientist to talk about the reality of anxiety in the classroom. Dr. Amelia Wilcox is an accomplished psychologist who specializes in clinical work, neuroscience, and cognition––so she knows a thing or two about what’s happening in the brain of a stressed-out student. Amelia did her post-doc fellowship in neuropsychology. But she trained as a clinical psychologist prior to that. She taught at UCSF at the school of medicine for 8 years. And she now teaches at Lewis & Clark in Portland, Oregon.

In this episode, we review metacognition (thinking about thinking) and how it intersects with classroom anxieties. We also discuss clinical psychology and how it’s more engaging, exciting, and educational than many give it credit. Plus, Dr. Wilcox offers techniques to help break the cycle of stressful thinking, inside the classroom and beyond.

As a professor and clinician, Dr. Wilcox offers unique insights into the challenges teens face today, particularly in the realm of education and mental health. This article focuses on understanding and effectively managing anxiety among teens, a concern amplified by the recent pandemic and its impact on educational environments.

Classroom Anxiety Solutions with Dr. Amelia Wilcox

The Prevalence and Nature of Anxiety in Teens

In this inaugural episode, Dr. Wilcox sheds light on the increasing prevalence of anxiety among teenagers. The ongoing pandemic has intensified these feelings, creating a heightened sense of uncertainty and stress. Disrupted routines and educational shifts have played a significant role in this rise. Dr. Wilcox emphasizes the importance of recognizing these changes and understanding their profound impact on teen mental health. She also discusses the ripple effects of increased family stress and how it contributes to a more challenging environment for teens.

For example, consider the case of the fictional sophomore, Emma. Before the pandemic, Emma was a confident student, active in clubs and sports. However, the sudden shift to remote learning, coupled with the uncertainty of the pandemic, significantly impacted her. She began experiencing heightened anxiety, often feeling overwhelmed with the blurring lines between home and school life. Emma’s case represents a struggle many teens can relate to: finding it challenging to adapt to the new normal of education,

Shifts in Study Habits and Health Effects

Dr. Wilcox notes a significant shift in study habits due to the pandemic-induced transition to online learning. This change, while necessary, has led to various health concerns, including disrupted sleep patterns and a phenomenon now commonly referred to as “Zoom fatigue.” Dr. Wilcox stresses the importance of maintaining a balance between study and rest, highlighting the critical role of physical activity and regular breaks from screen time. These adjustments are crucial for maintaining not just academic performance, but overall mental and physical well-being.

To counteract the negative effects of prolonged online learning, Tutor Portland recommends structured study schedules. This includes setting specific times for studying and taking breaks, creating a clear separation between work and relaxation. Try incorporating ‘movement breaks’ into the routine. These are short intervals for physical activity, like stretching or taking a walk, which help refresh the mind and reduce the strain of prolonged sitting.

Effective Study Strategies and Memory Consolidation

Dr. Amelia Wilcox emphasizes the importance of active engagement in learning, rather than passive reading or listening. She advises students to interact with the material, like teaching it to someone else or applying it in a different context, to enhance understanding and retention. This diverse engagement requires the brain to integrate and reorganize information, making it more robust and retrievable.

Highlighting the crucial role of sleep, Dr. Wilcox points out that rest is not just downtime but a key period for memory consolidation. This period of rest allows for the strengthening of neural connections and the integration of new information with existing knowledge, enhancing long-term retention and understanding of the material. Without utilizing this critical window, many of the hours students dedicate to studying can go to waste, as sleepy students struggle to consolidate new information into their long term memories.

The Role of Metacognition in Managing Anxiety

Metacognition, or thinking about one’s own thinking, is a vital skill in managing anxiety, explains Dr. Wilcox. She encourages students to be aware of their thought processes and identify patterns that may lead to anxiety. By understanding how they think, students can develop strategies to tackle anxiety, such as recognizing and challenging negative thoughts. Dr. Wilcox also suggests mindfulness practices to cultivate a more objective view of one’s thoughts and feelings.

Remember Emma, the fictional high school sophomore grappling with anxiety? If Emma were to consult a psychologist and employ metacognitive techniques, she would see remarkable benefits. By actively engaging in metacognition, she can learn to identify and challenge her irrational worries, leading to a significant reduction in her stress levels. This transformative process can allow Emma to develop a more balanced and realistic perspective, enhancing her ability to focus on her studies and participate more fully in her academic and extracurricular activities. This is one way metacognition can prove to be pivotal in helping students better navigate anxiety.

The Challenge of Perfectionism in Education

Perfectionism can be a significant source of stress for students, Dr. Wilcox notes. She discusses the high pressure to perform academically and how this can lead to a fear of failure. To combat this, Dr. Wilcox advises embracing a growth mindset, where mistakes are seen as opportunities for learning rather than failures. She emphasizes the importance of setting realistic goals and recognizing the value of the learning process over the pursuit of perfect outcomes.

At Tutor Portland, our tutors agree that dealing with students’ perfectionism starts with fostering a growth mindset and practical learning strategies. We emphasize the importance of setting realistic goals and acknowledging the learning process over perfect outcomes. Further, we recommend that parents of students encourage their children to embrace mistakes as learning opportunities (without forgetting to praise their efforts!), and help them understand that imperfection is a natural part of learning. A supportive environment is crucial for helping students develop a healthier approach to academics and personal growth.

Practical Anxiety Management Techniques

Dr. Wilcox offers several practical techniques for managing anxiety. Breathing exercises, such as deep abdominal breathing, can help calm the nervous system and reduce stress.

Deep Abdominal Breathing
  • Find a comfortable position, either sitting or lying down.
  • Place one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen.
  • Take a slow, deep breath through your nose, ensuring that your abdomen rises more than your chest.
  • Exhale slowly through your mouth or nose, whichever feels more comfortable.

Repeat this process for a few minutes, focusing on the rise and fall of your abdomen. Dr. Wilcox also recommends cognitive-behavioral strategies, like challenging irrational fears and replacing them with more balanced thoughts.

How to Challenge Irational Fears
  • Identify the thought causing anxiety.
  • Ask yourself evidence-based questions: Is there factual evidence for this thought? Are there alternative explanations?
  • Replace the irrational thought with a more balanced, realistic one.

Building a routine that includes regular exercise, adequate sleep, and healthy eating can also contribute to overall anxiety reduction. 

Building a Healthy Routine
  • Incorporate regular physical exercise into your daily schedule, tailored to your fitness level.
  • Ensure you get adequate sleep each night, aiming for 7-9 hours.
  • Adopt a balanced diet, rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins.
  • Try to maintain a consistent schedule for sleeping, eating, and physical activities.

These strategies should aid in managing classroom anxiety, however Dr. Wilcox stresses the importance of seeking professional help if anxiety becomes overwhelming.

Benefits of Tutoring in Managing Classroom Anxiety

Tutoring can be a transformative tool in managing classroom anxiety. It provides a personalized learning environment, allowing students to revisit challenging concepts at their own pace. This one-on-one attention helps demystify subjects that cause anxiety, reinforcing understanding through repeated exposure. Additionally, tutoring can boost confidence, making classroom participation less daunting and more engaging.

From Tutor Portland’s perspective, the benefits of tutoring in managing classroom anxiety extend beyond academic support. They emphasize the role of tutors as mentors who can provide emotional and motivational support. This holistic approach to tutoring addresses not only the academic challenges but also the emotional aspects of learning. By fostering a supportive and understanding environment, tutors can help students overcome anxiety barriers, build self-esteem, and develop a positive attitude towards learning and problem-solving.

Don’t forget to reach out on our contact page to get in touch with a tutoring professional who can develop a specialized plan for getting over classroom anxieties.

Final Takeaways and Resources

Dr. Amelia Wilcox’s insights offer valuable strategies for teens to need to cope with and overcome struggles with anxiety, especially in academic settings. For further support and detailed strategies, readers are encouraged to visit Dr. Wilcox’s website. These tools can empower students, parents, and educators to effectively navigate the complexities of anxiety in educational contexts.

The conversation with Dr. Wilcox highlights the critical importance of addressing teen anxiety. By understanding its roots and applying practical strategies, students can not only manage anxiety but also thrive in their educational journeys and paths of personal development.

Remember, a lot of teens have experiences like Emma. Overwhelming transitions can introduce a significant deal of stress and impact a student’s ability to learn effectively. However, there are incredible effective methods out there to help. Shifting study habits, prioritizing health, and developing metacognitive strategies are all ways Emma can positively affect her academic performance and personal wellbeing.


Text Anxiety

In this episode Amelia discusses some ways in which we can overcome test anxiety. Some of the tips that she mentions are:

  1. Good Preparation
  2. Effortful Engagement
  3. Anxiety Management Tools
  4. Somatic & Cognitive Calming Methods
  5. Breathing Techniques

Our host Brian Grant and Amelia Wilcox also discuss meta-cognition. Dr. Wilcox discusses the importance of finding the narrative-thread within someone’s life. She is a big believer in understanding. She wants her patients to understand why they are thinking and behaving the way that they do. She wants her patients to understand the neuroscience of what’s actually going on within their brains and their bodies.

Peer Group & Meta-Cognition

Amelia talks about something she sees with a lot of her clinical patients—anxiety. Anxiety is really common among teens and students. Nearly 33% of Americans will experience some sort of anxiety. Amelia describes it as the “common cold” of mental health. And that was pre-pandemic! 

Amelia also breaks down changes that have happened with teenagers since the pandemic. She mentions that she encourages her patients to get outside and breathe some fresh air. Dr. Wilcox discusses findings from the American Academy of Pediatrics—including how much screen time our kids should be getting. Basically, Dr. Wilcox says our kids need less screen time and more time engaged with their peers. For young teenagers and kids—being with your peers is vital. It’s oxygen. And Dr. Wilcox believes that this separation from the peer group is one major cause of the increased anxiety she has seen among her patients since the pandemic.

Dr. Wilcox believes one of the biggest stressors our young folk are dealing with is our cultural obsession with perfection. But life isn’t always perfect. In fact, it’s far from perfect. Amelia believes that parents shouldn’t always try to protect their children from failure. Because failure is really inevitable—and it’s actually something that we can learn from!

It is the ability to think about your own thinking. It’s basically a form of self-reflection and it can help you become a better student, too. One of the tips Dr. Wilcox recommends is for students to track their time. She wants students to time themselves while they study and track what they are doing every 15 minutes. It’s a form of meta-cognition. They’re gaining more introspection and self-understanding.


To hear the full interview with Dr. Amelia Wilcox, listen to our first episode of the Tutor Portland Podcast at the top of this page or over here at our Spotify page.