How to Handle Anxiety in HSE Prep

Posted by on May 4th, 2015

Your adult learner is stressed about starting a new phase of life, one that involves learning, technology, and most of all, change.


But helping students understand how transition works is key to managing change.


What’s the big deal?

Any time a person – especially an adult – steps out of their comfort zone and experiences something new, by choice or not, it can result in a certain amount of anxiety. By nature, people aren’t necessarily built to handle change.


The difference between transition and change

The Transition Framework is only one of many models that describes how people manage change during a transition, but it’s simple to grasp and relatively easy to apply.


According to William Bridges, author of “Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change,” the difference between change and transition is this: change happens to a person whether they want it or not. Transition is the process of managing that change. Change is external, and transition is internal.


Think of it as akin to the Kübler-Ross ‘Five Stages of Grief,’ but in Bridges’ model, there are three stages. These stages explain how a person goes from one place in life to another. And that’s exactly what your adult learners are facing.


According to Bridges, these are the three phases of transition. Understanding how this works can help you, as an instructor, understand the underlying causes of anxiety, push-back and failure with your adult learners:


1 – Endings

With any change, there is an ending. Your student is saying goodbye to a previous way of life, in favor of a better way of life. That’s why they’re undertaking the work of attaining an HSE.


Don’t take this lightly. Saying goodbye is hard, and just because the adult learner is excited for things to come doesn’t mean she’s completely OK with leaving her old life behind. This is how the http://www.transitionandsocialchange.org/ website describes a person’s emotions as they approach an ending point. As an instructor, does any of this sound familiar?

  • I am angry all the time at the people who put me in this position.
  • I don’t want to talk or think about the future. I just want things to stay the same.
  • I am afraid of what the future will bring. It can only be bad.
  • I feel completely helpless, like I’ve lost all control over my life.
  • I don’t trust others to be honest when talking with me.

(credit: Understanding Endings)


A typical ‘ending’ might be losing a job, losing a loved one, or even graduating high school. It’s important to understand endings, and the real reasons why people fear them. It’s also important to celebrate them. Acknowledge them. Make them real.


2 – Neutral Zone

This, according to the framework, is a time of confusion and chaos. Your student knows the old way of doing things is over, and is unclear on what to do going forward. It’s also a time of heightened creativity. People in this zone experiment. For adult learners, maybe they are looking at new tools for study. Maybe they’re processing work/life balance and finding creative ways to make things work.


In the Neutral Zone, according to the framework, people’s thoughts tend to be:


  • I can’t stop worrying about the future.

  • I want to try something different.

  • I feel lost and am scared of choosing the wrong path.

  • I’m excited—and overwhelmed—by the possibilities.

  • I know this change is good but don’t know how to make it work.

(credit: Understanding the Neutral Zone)


Sound familiar? If you’ve ever switched careers, you’ve probably been through this. You said goodbye to one way of life (Endings) and started to find ways to embrace the new way (Neutral Zone).


As an instructor, this is a great opportunity to support your adult learner. They’re more open to trying new tools, new techniques, and new ways of thinking. At the same time they’re probably still anxious. It’s a balancing act. Encourage experimentation and support failures.


3- New Beginnings

Your student, an adult that may or may not have had a lot of anxiety about prepping for and taking the HSE, has either passed, or is about to take the test.


Remember, transitions are how people deal with change. Change can happen quickly, but transitioning through change can take a long time.


How do they feel?

  • What was once new to me is becoming normal.

  • When I think about the past, I don’t get as upset as I used to.

  • I feel good about where I am and who I am.

  • I’m not as worried about the future as I used to be..

(credit: New Beginnings)


Support your adult learner during this phase. He is feeling confident about the future and has gone through a lot. He may be optimistic about passing the test, or if already passed, then about the future. But there’s a certain comfort level he’s attained because he’s managed a major life change through an internal, mental transition.


Why is this important?

If, as an instructor, you can identify where a person is throughout a transition, you are better able to help them manage change. Going through prep and eventually taking an HSE is definitely a major life change. Helping students understand where they are emotionally can be one more way of setting them up for future success.

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