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  • Writer's pictureMargaret Nelson

Learning a New Language with an Anxiety Disorder

Disclaimer: I am not a mental health professional, and the following article is for educational purposes only. This article is not intended to diagnose or treat a mental illness or constitute medical advice. If you are concerned about your mental health, please consult a qualified mental health professional. If you are in a crisis, please call 911, go to your nearest emergency room, or contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. If you are outside of the United States, please call your local emergency number or contact your local suicide prevention hotline by consulting this list.

What do you think of when you hear the term “Anxiety Disorder?” Maybe you think of someone who always worries. You might think of someone shy, quiet, and trips over their tongue. You might even think of someone who is non-functioning or who isolates themselves from other people.

It may surprise you to learn that anxiety disorders are one of the most common mental illnesses. Over 40 million people in the United States have an anxiety disorder, and this number has only increased since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. Experts are now saying that around 20% of people diagnosed with Covid-19 will develop a mental illness within three months, such as anxiety, depression, and insomnia. This doesn’t even account for the stress caused by other sources: the extra isolation, the economic downturn, being exposed to Covid-19, or losing a loved one to the virus.

This is a black-and-white picture of a teenage girl curled up on a window sill. She's sitting parallel to the window, and her feet are resting on the windowsill. She's wearing dark-colored pants and a long-sleeved shirt.
The Covid-19 Pandemic has been difficult for many people.

It’s safe to say that the Covid-19 pandemic has been a struggle for many people. As of this writing, we’ve been living with Covid-19 in the United States for over a year. Our lives turned upside down overnight. We had to get used to wearing masks, social distancing, and staying away from other people. You’ve likely had to adjust to working from home, and if you have kids, you had to learn how to juggle your work responsibilities with educating your kids. This stress can cause you to worry about many things, such as your health, safety, and loved ones. If you’ve experienced job loss or cuts in salary or hours and the resulting financial difficulties, then your worrying can become even more intense.

Maybe you’re in this boat right now. You may have been recently diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, or you may have lived with an anxiety disorder since childhood or adolescence. Regardless of when you got diagnosed, the struggle is real when you have an anxiety disorder. It can be debilitating to worry all the time. It’s easy to feel alone, especially if other people minimize, dismiss, or mock your worries. I want to reassure you that you didn’t do anything wrong, and it’s not your fault that you got diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. You’re not “weak” or a “failure.” In my experience, people get diagnosed with anxiety disorders (and other mental illnesses) because they’ve had to be strong for too long.

It may surprise you to learn that there are several types of anxiety disorders. These include:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder. People with Generalized Anxiety Disorder have persistent and excessive worries about many different things, such as money, health, family, work, or other issues.

  • Panic Disorder. Panic disorder occurs when a person experiences spontaneous, seemingly out-of-the-blue panic attacks and is very preoccupied with the fear of a recurring attack.

  • Social Anxiety Disorder. People with social anxiety disorder have intense anxiety or fear of being judged, negatively evaluated, or rejected in a social or performance situation. They may worry about acting or appearing visibly anxious. They may also worry about other people viewing them as stupid, awkward, or boring.

  • Specific Phobias. People with specific phobias have intense, irrational fear reactions to places, situations, or objects. They work hard to avoid them, even though they know there’s no threat or danger.

  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. People with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder experience obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are intrusive and unwanted thoughts, images, or urges that cause distress or anxiety. Compulsions are behaviors that the person feels compelled to perform to ease their stress and anxiety or suppress their thoughts.

  • Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). PTSD is a condition that can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a natural disaster, serious accident, terrorist incident, sudden death of a loved one, war, violent personal assault, or other life-threatening events.

When you have an anxiety disorder, it’s easy to believe that it will keep you from living your life, and it’s easy to view it as a negative thing. However, having an anxiety disorder doesn’t have to stop you from living your best life. You may need to do things differently than other people, though.

That doesn’t mean that you have to miss out on doing the things you want to do. For example, many people want to learn a new language, but the process can be intimidating. What if you don’t know where to begin? What if you’re nervous about meeting other people? What if you’re scared to make a mistake in front of others?

This is a picture of a man sitting at a desk in front of an open laptop. He's pinching the bridge of his nose, just below his glasses.
Too much worrying can exhaust you.

With the right strategies, though, you can accomplish your goals. Whether you want to make new friends, earn that promotion, or learn a new language, you can do the same things as everyone else. The journey to accomplishing these goals might look different, but you can do it.

Many people want to learn a new language. Even though it may seem intimidating, there are strategies to help you learn a new language with an anxiety disorder. Keep in mind, learning a new language can even help your mental health. Before you get started, here’s what you should know about learning a new language with an anxiety disorder:

  1. Learning a new language forces you out of your comfort zone. The best way to get your anxiety under control is to confront your fears with the help of a therapist. Yes, learning a new language can be risky. You will likely make mistakes. However, there’s little risk to your physical safety. Once you survive, you’ll see that it’s no big deal, which will desensitize you to anxiety-inducing situations. Over time, this will help lower your anxiety.

  2. Learning a new language can provide a distraction from your worries. While you need to confront your fears and work through them, sometimes you need to take a break. Also, for some people with anxiety disorders, boredom and a lack of structure can take a toll on your mental health. Boredom can give you more time to worry about things, and a lack of routine can cause anxiety because it makes your circumstances less predictable. But because of the pandemic, our options for entertainment and in-person activities have been severely limited. Learning a language can give you something new to do. You can even use this activity to introduce more structure into your life. You can do this by setting aside a certain amount of time each day or week. For example, you could dedicate 15 minutes after dinner every day to study a foreign language.

  3. Learning a new language allows you to connect with other people and make new friends. Having a support system is crucial when you have an anxiety disorder. Having a group of people to support you will help you combat the isolation that mental illnesses cause. By learning another language, you will be able to communicate with more people. The more people you can talk to, the easier it will be to make friends.

  4. There are many options to learn a new language. There are computer programs and apps that allow you to learn a new language in the privacy of your home. You could start off learning the basics with one of these programs to boost your confidence, and then you could move on to taking a class.

  5. Once you feel comfortable, you can take a language class. At ReDefiners World Languages, we offer language classes in English, Spanish, Arabic, and Mandarin Chinese. We have small group classes available, and we sort students into courses based on the difficulty level. For example, if you’ve never spoken Spanish before, you’ll be placed with other beginner students. Because of this, you will be with other people who are at a similar level. If you would prefer, you can even take private lessons. Once you build trust with your teacher, the language-learning process will become easier.

  6. Your anxiety disorder can help you empathize with non-native English speakers. Do you know how your heart pounds and you get tongue-tied when you try to speak your second language? That’s often how non-native English speakers feel when they try to speak English. At first, it’s scary and overwhelming, especially since English is a hard language to learn. By reaching out to non-native speakers, you can make friends who empathize with your anxiety.

Besides these, other benefits of language learning can benefit those with anxiety disorders. According to The Intrepid Guide, these include the following:

  1. Increase your self-confidence and happiness. Many people who have anxiety disorders struggle with their self-confidence and self-esteem. Working towards a goal and being successful can boost your confidence and self-esteem, which, in turn, can also increase your happiness.

  2. Develop your decision-making skills. People who have anxiety disorders can struggle to make decisions. The fear of making the wrong choice can make it harder to make decisions, as can the stress and fatigue that comes with anxiety disorders. Weighing the pros and cons of a decision in a foreign language reduces emotional responses and biases. Doing so enables you to think clearly and make better, more confident decisions.

  3. Improve your memory. When you have an anxiety disorder, your memory can suffer. After all, It’s hard to remember things if you’re exhausted and stressed. When you learn a language, it allows your brain to practice remembering things and transferring them to your long term memory. In other words, the more you practice a new language, the better your memory will be.

  4. Improve your ability to multitask. For people with anxiety disorders, multitasking can be overwhelming and anxiety-inducing. However, for bilingual people, multitasking becomes easier because their brains can juggle two or more languages. They navigate information from both languages, prioritize what’s important, and set aside the unimportant information. Once your brain has practice juggling multiple streams of information, it becomes easier to juggle multiple tasks.

  5. Delay the onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. If your anxiety causes you to worry about your health, it’s often more productive to focus on what you can control. For example, if you worry about the possibility of developing dementia or Alzheimer’s, it’s more productive to focus on things that prevent the onset of these conditions. One of the best things to do is to give your brain a workout. You can do this by completing crossword puzzles, reading, and learning a new language.

Covid-19 has caused a lot of stress, worry, and heartache for a lot of people. We’ve worried about things like our health and safety, the health and safety of others, juggling work and educating our kids, job loss and other financial worries, and getting exposed to or contracting Covid-19.

As of this writing, Covid-19 vaccines have rolled out. Over 32 million people have received at least one dose, and 9.5 million have received both doses. The Johnson and Johnson vaccine has also sought emergency approval from the FDA. There are signs that things are looking up, but we still have a ways to go before things go back to the pre-pandemic normal.

In the meantime, we need to continue to take care of ourselves physically, mentally, and emotionally. Some of the best things that we can do are maintain a routine, take a break from the news, and do the things that make us happy. When you learn a new language, you can do all three.

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Self-care is essential, especially during the pandemic

Just because you have an anxiety disorder doesn’t mean that you can’t do the same things as everyone else. Yes, it comes with extra challenges, but it doesn’t have to stand in your way. With the right tips, strategies, and support, you can accomplish your goals and dreams. You can still live a full, happy life.


If you’re looking for more support on your language-learning journey, consider taking a class with ReDefiners! We offer courses in English, Spanish, Mandarin, and Arabic. We have online and in-person courses, in addition to group and private classes, to meet your learning needs. Scholarships are available for those who qualify. For more information, please visit our website or email us at

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