An Anxious Moment

An Anxious MomentEarlier this week, four buildings were evacuated at Harvard University after a bomb threat surfaced. Although this sort of thing happens with some frequency, this was different. I was across the street.

I first heard of the threats in the checkout line in a store, and I immediately did what’s become my natural instinct when I need info about an event that’s happening right now—I went to Twitter. But emerging from the basement of this building in an area of Cambridge that must be something of a dead zone, I couldn’t get service. I had no information about what was happening, where I should go, or how credible these threats even were. I kept second guessing myself, too, and wondered if I had even overheard the right information.

I was more than a little freaked out by the whole experience.

Still, I was beginning to experience this really anxious moment on my first day alone in Boston after a conference some 1,500 miles from home in Texas.

Not my favorite time.

Eventually, I found service, followed Harvard’s Twitter account, made my way to a bookstore (a bookstore is always a happy, safe place, right? Or is it that only English teachers think this…), and nervously waited as updates trickled out.

Here’s what I saw first. Not encouraging (especially when you don’t exactly know where you are in relation to these buildings).

After that, I received this update. At this point, I’m thinking through things like, would it be better to be on the bottom floor of this bookstore in case I need to get out? Seriously. Ridiculous, right? Hooray for my lizard brain being in rare form.

At this point, I decided it would be best to get on the T (public transportation in Boston) despite the fact that I would have to walk toward campus to do so.

From here, I made my way back to my hotel across town. Not until I entered my hotel room and called my wife did I breathe a sigh of relief.


Reflecting on this experience reminds me of two things:

  • It’s so easy to let anxiety take hold when you feel isolated in an unfamiliar environment.
  • I talk about dealing with anxiety way more than I actually experience it.

You see, I’m pretty comfortable at home.

I’m a middle class, white, male who works as an assistant principal in the same high school I taught in. If that weren’t enough, it also happens to be the same high school I attended in the same school district I attended K-12. I know it really, really well. And it’s comfortable. There are very few unknowns, and it’s easy for me to think that when I interact with others in the same space, everyone is having a similar experience at a similar level of comfort.

In that moment where I felt disconnected from people I trusted and unaware of the events happening around me, my anxiety shot through the roof. Finding myself alone, disconnected, and around the rumor of the threat of danger made me rethink how some of our students might experience school.

Sure, mine happened with the sound of sirens responding down the streets a couple of times a minute. What I felt as rumors of uncertainty circled is different than what the other people around me felt, and it’s clearly a different set of circumstances than what students may come across in schools. I certainly don’t mean to oversimplify either situation or to place value on which experience is worse for which individual. What I do mean to say is this: My experience with I perceived to be an imminent threat affected me in a lasting way. Regardless of the magnitude of the cause, when student (or even when teacher) anxiety is triggered, we get an adverse response. Whenever possible, we have to do whatever we can to help eliminate those stressors or help students self-regulate during those times of heightened anxiety.


In the moment, I could think through what I should do in response to the situation. Not 72 hours before, I heard Dr. Roy Baumeister talk about how decision fatigue impacts our ability to make our best choices. According to Baumeister, when we are making choices while depleted either from the volume of choices we’ve had to or due to the stress taken on during decision making, our choices bear one or more of these traits:

  • Postpone/avoid decision
  • Less compromise
  • Default option
  • Impulse, self-indulge
  • Irrational bias
  • Lower trust
  • Selfishness, unfairness

I won’t drag you though how I see each of these traits in my anxiety filled decisions, but believe me, they’re there. It’s frustrating for me to see that I had the information, but I couldn’t put it into use. I was sucked into this moment.

And it’s probably frustrating for me at some level because I don’t extend the benefit of the doubt as often as I should. Even if I get this right 4 out 5 times, I’d still leave too many students to work through their situations without support.

I say this as much to myself as to you: “Be generous with your beliefs about what’s driving student behavior. Provide them a safe place to regroup after missteps, and work to help them recognize stress and self-regulate during future situations.”

I’m hopeful that I’m more generous with my beliefs when I return to campus. I hope that I can provide a safe place for students to regroup and move forward throughout their days, and I hope that I don’t soon forget my own response in this experience.

Be generous


My stuff is small, and I want to acknowledge that. It felt significant in that moment, but as I write this—just 24 hours later—it’s passed. The stakes only amplify as the level of serious concern rises in these situations, and I’m mindful of that as I write this. I’m thankful it passed quickly and that the experience was enough to give me pause and remind me both how easy I have it and how crippling that combination of feelings can be.

I hesitate to generalize whether most experience more than that or not, but I’m comfortable stating that most experience more than what they’re letting on. I think it’s our job as educators to work to notice the big things and the little stressors for those on our campuses. It’s a big task, but what a worthwhile pursuit!

Before you leave this blog…

Take a moment to give thanks for where you find stability.

Take a moment to identify those you may have overlooked who routinely experience some instability.

Then take a moment to think through where you, even in the smallest ways, can provide stability and support for those around you.