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At The Center for Stress and Anxiety Management, our psychologists have years of experience. Unlike many other providers, our clinicians truly specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of anxiety and related problems. Our mission is to apply only the most effective short-term psychological treatments supported by extensive scientific research. We are located in Rancho Bernardo, Carlsbad, and Mission Valley.

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Read our award-winning blogs for useful information and tips about anxiety, stress, and related disorders.


Filtering by Tag: adult learning anxiety

Why Adult Learning Anxiety is like Learning to Fish in Phoenix:

Jill Stoddard

5 Tips and 6 Resources for Adult Students

by Lucas Myers


In difficult economic times, many adults are returning to school in order to seek out new opportunities or transition into a second career. This can prove to be a tremendous challenge. Have you ever heard the saying “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks”? There may be a grain of truth to the saying but take it with a grain of salt. In this case you might say two grains are better than one. Knowing about the challenges facing an adult learner and having a plan to overcome them is the ticket to success.

Yes, as we age learning becomes more difficult and can become more anxiety provoking. Adults may be even more sensitive to failure in learning situations than children. Often, previous negative experiences with education may contribute to self-doubt and fear surrounding ability. Adults returning to school or any in-depth learning project are likely to feel that they are in unfamiliar territory in spite of education level or socioeconomic status. Frequent sources of adult learning anxiety may include feeling intimidated by unfamiliar new technology, out of place in online learning environments, a lack of confidence in rusty study skills, and concerns related to how school will impact already hectic schedules and limited finances. Returning to school later in life can make an adult as nervous as a fish on Friday.

However, regardless of the challenges that face adult learners, their differences create areas of opportunity in which they excel. A key to success in learning is the source of motivation. It is widely believed that motivation that is inspired by external factors, or extrinsic motivation, is much less powerful than motivation that comes from someone’s internal needs and desires. This intrinsic motivation is particularly important to create the best results with adult learners. Experts believe that adults are strongly motivated to learn in areas that are relevant to their growth in society, social roles, addressing life crises, and managing transitional periods. What I'm telling you is this: no amount of nagging and cajoling will get an adult to hit the books, but if you have an iron clad argument for how education will help him get a raise, a promotion, a new career, a tax break, or a hot dinner, you may find yourself a star pupil.

Unlike young learners who are focused on a postponed application of knowledge (e.g. “I'm going to be an ocean explorer one day”), adults’ time perspective has changed to one of immediate applications (e.g. “I want fish for dinner tonight”). This involves a shift from subject-oriented learning (i.e. marine biology) to problem-oriented learning (i.e. feeding the kids). Research supports the perspective that adults undertaking an educational project hope to solve a problem rather than learn about a subject. Because adult learners will engage better with material that they can relate to their own experiences, they will also learn faster and better. If the educator and learner are able to integrate new and difficult concepts with helping present and future personal experiences, the learner will maximize her chances for success. During transitional periods of life, adults who find themselves in need of knowledge in service of family life or new job skills are triggered to initiate learning. In other words, adults ask of their education “Hey Bub, what have you done for me lately?” Does what you're learning apply to your life now? Learning to fish doesn't help you much in downtown Phoenix, but a hungry man on a lifeboat in the middle of the Pacific is a motivated fisherman.

As a rule, adults are inclined to devote energy and engagement to the quality and quantity of learning that they see as the most immediately beneficial to their future (after all, finding an air conditioner is probably more important than fishing if you live in Phoenix). Therefore, it is vital that an adult learner feel empowered in influencing learning goals to ensure that his or her goals meet specific needs in his or her life. Because adults tend to have a broad base of experience, they are usually well equipped to identify what they need to learn. For most, there are responsibilities that will compete for time and attention. Does the average person need to know the migration patterns of salmon? No. Do they need to know how to bait a hook? Maybe. Do they need to put dinner on the table for the kids tonight? Absolutely. Part of setting goals must then be balancing the expenditure of time with the importance of completing educational objectives.

What can you take away from this for those who are seeking out a new degree, certification or career training? 

  • Caution them that they may feel more challenged by learning than they once did and it is normal to feel anxiety about returning to school. Many adult students incorrectly believe that they do not have the study skills that are necessary to be successful. The truth is that most adults in their forties and fifties possess about the same level of learning ability as they did in their twenties and thirties. In fact experts agree that if there is an age limit on learning performance it is unlikely to be seen before the age of seventy-five. “Bill, you're never too old to learn to fish”.

  • Remind adult learners often to think about their motivation for seeking education and to focus on how it will have direct and immediate impacts on helping them to achieve their goals. Reflecting on what new knowledge will bring to a student’s life, particularly the hows and whys, is a great way to inspire dedication and focus. If the rewards are seen as valuable enough then sacrifices will be borne more willingly and easily. “Bill, your kids are gonna love them fishsticks and tonight we're gonna have the best darn Cajun-style Catfish you ever tasted!”

ADDITIONAL TIP: One way to stay motivated is to seek out a mentor, someone who is a little farther along the path to her educational and career goals that can share inspiration, advice, and support.

An adult learner must actively look for ways to manage stress. Going back to school, and learning new skills, especially when added to adult responsibilities like caring for a family and paying bills, can be a major source of stress. Like all stress, it is important to be aware of how going to school is going to impact your life, and to make a plan to maintain balance. 

  • Self care such as diet, exercise, and sleep are particularly important to achieving this balance. 

  • Making time to participate in activities that one enjoys is a great way to relieve tension (like fishing!).

  • Reconnecting with friends and family ensures that the busy schedule of an adult student doesn’t lead to isolation and becoming overwhelmed. 

With the many demands facing an adult learner it can be tempting to put his personal needs on the back burner and it is particularly important to remember that self care is not just a momentary impulse now but it part of the journey to a successful education experience and therefore it is an investment in the future.

So why IS adult learning anxiety like learning to fish in Phoenix? They both give you something to do but they don't put dinner on the table.

Adult students, remember: 

  1. Relate lessons to your life to remain motivated.

  2. Remember motivation to increase engagement and focus. 

  3. Maintain balance; take time to care for yourself now so you can be successful later. 

  4. If you are finding yourself feeling alone and overwhelmed reach out to a friend, teacher, adult family member or classmate. 

  5. If anxiety has become too overwhelming, don’t be afraid to ask for help.

If you are suffering from stress or anxiety and would like to speak with a professional, please contact us at the Center for Stress and Anxiety Management at or by dialing 858-

BONUS: Learning Resources for Mature Students

Learn 2 Type ( – In order to write, you must possess basic typing (or keyboarding) skills.  Learning to type faster will help you compose your thoughts more quickly, saving time and making you more efficient!  Learn 2 Type is an excellent typing tutor and is free to use.

The Purdue OWL (Online Writing Lab) ( – This is the most famous writing website I have found.  You will find help with APA formatting, avoiding plagiarism, grammar, mechanics, etc.

Daily Grammar ( – Provides a great refresher of basic grammar rules.

The Oatmeal ( – A website that offers humorous and strange examples to help you remember grammar concepts.  The lessons on using an apostrophe and a semicolon properly are my favorites.

Guide to Writing a Basic Essay ( – Steps you through the writing process. 

James ESL Free English Lessons  ( – James has had over 7 million people watch his videos.  Scroll through his lessons and find the one that will be most helpful to you!


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Cross, K. (1981). Adults as learners. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Darkenwald, G., & Merriam, S. B. (1982). Adult education: Foundations of practice. New York: 

Harper & Row.

Jones, H. E, & Conrad, H. (1933). The growth and decline of intelligence: A study of a 

homogeneous group between the ages of l0 and 60. Genetic Psychological Monographs, 

13, 223-298.

Kidd, J. (1973). How adults learn. New York: Association Press.

Knowles, M. (1980). The modern practice of adult education : from pedagogy to andragogy

Wilton, Conn. Chicago: Association Press Follett Pub. Co.

Knowles, M., Holton, E. & Swanson, R. (2011). The Adult Learner : The Definitive Classic in 

Adult Education and Human Resource Development. Amsterdam Boston: Elsevier.

Knox, A. B. (1977). Adult development and learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Maxine E. Rossman and Mark H. Rossman. (1990). The Rossman Adult Learning Inventory: 

Creating awareness of adult development. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education.

Smith, J., & Baltes, P B. (1990). Wisdom-related knowledge: Age/cohort differences in response 

to life- planning problems. Developmental Psychology, 26, 494-505.

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