The Dyslexic-Anxiety Overlap
Persistent fear or worry over something that ‘might’ happen, anxiety can be extremely emotionally draining and debilitating. Being a bit nervous and having the feeling of ‘butterflies in your tummy’ is a perfectly normal human reaction and emotion. Psychologically this shows that we care. We may experience these feelings before a job interview, exam or totally alien social situation. But, presenting with high levels of anxiety on a frequent basis can definitely be a cause for concern. Within this latest post I wish to delve into and uncover the inter-connected relationship between dyslexia and anxiety. Why in particular are these two elements linked and what impact can this heightened level of anxiety have on individuals?
Anxiety can present itself in many different ways, depending on the individual and situation. For some nervous laughter is in abundance, whereas others go silent. Many individuals can verbalise and express their worries and concerns, despite this being highly difficult and personal to disclose. In extreme cases an anxiety or ‘panic attack’ may be looming in the not so distant future. A dense dark fog or mass of grey thick clouds are often used to represent and symbolise anxiety; emphasising a sign of impending doom. This can be quite a sensitive and delicate subject. But nonetheless, it was a topic that I wished to research and discuss in order to support the neurodiverse world.
Why do dyslexics experience anxiety? In truth there are many, many reasons for this. Dyslexics may feel they are being presented with tasks they find too difficult, leading to potential failure or an ‘anticipation of failure’. This potential or anticipation of failure feeds into a vicious anxiety cycle, where an individual becomes anxious in situations as they expect a negative outcome (International Dyslexia Association, 2019). Moreover, dyslexics may present with high anxiety levels as they may fear being judged or ridiculed by others. As a result, this may also lead to social isolation, embarrassment, paranoia, annoyance and frustration around making errors, an increase in fatigue levels, reduced self-esteem and/or individuals presenting as highly self-conscious of their weaknesses or ‘perceived weaknesses’ (Davis Dyslexia Association International, 2008). Taking a deeper psychological stance, a lack of control can be a major catalyst of anxiety (Rosen, 2019). When a situation is out of one’s control the state of play is unpredictable. The outcome, which could be positive or negative, may be out of ours hands or unknown for long periods of time. Because of this, individuals may doubt themselves and question their capabilities; leading to cyclical pattern of worry. Thus, as can be seen, being anxious can be absolutely bloody exhausting, both emotionally and physically.
An academic study by Novita (2016) conducted a comparison of anxiety and self-esteem amongst dyslexics and non-dyslexics. The study’s findings were particularly interesting. The author concluded that the anxiety presented in dyslexics is channelled into a specific context. These ‘specific contexts’ are often academic or study-based environments, such as schools, colleges, universities and places of work. Frequent and consistent exposure within and to these environments can led to high anxiety levels, persistent worry and potentially fear in that particular domain. Therefore in this way, anxiety in dyslexics may appear to be situational. Additionally, Novita (2016) concluded that anxiety is a ‘secondary symptom’ of dyslexia. These worry-laden thoughts accompany the more well-known reading, writing and processing struggles that are most commonly associated with dyslexia. It is vital to note that being formally diagnosed as dyslexic does not force, predispose or condemn an individual to suffer from anxiety. Nonetheless, as discussed above, being dyslexic may make an individual more sensitive and prone to anxious thoughts in certain situations. Personality traits and psychological profiles too play a key role in anxiety levels. Those individuals who are naturally more neurotic or ‘worry prone’, and dyslexic, may experience a double pronged attack where these two factors work in conjunction to potentially heightened anxiety levels.
How can these anxiety levels be reduced and manged? Within their excellent article on anxiety and stress, the International Dyslexia Association (2019) outlined and explained key methods to help minimise the negative impacts anxiety can have on dyslexics. Understanding one’s own dyslexia is emphasised as being a crucial factor. Identifying, recognising and understanding the causes, catalysts and aetiologies of one’s anxiety is a key first step on helping to reduce anxiety levels. As all dyslexics are unique, individuals will having differing environmental and situational factors that heighten anxiety; potentially including writing large portions of text or reading aloud. By recognising these triggers, individually tailored coping strategies and ‘life hacks’ can be tested and developed to manage stress. Speculation of future challenges, stressful situations and triumphs are great ways for dyslexics plan ahead. In doing this, individuals may be able to predict and prepare for those anxious ridden moments. As an exemplar, for those who finding writing stressful, breaking task into smaller more manageable chunks and doing little pieces of work at regular intervals can be extremely beneficial. Additionally, promoting positive thinking can be hugely affective. Encouraging dyslexics to recall and celebrate achievements, to remain resilient and self-motivated can greatly improve perseverance skills and one’s psychological wellbeing in the face of both successes and advertises.
An often unconsidered and undetected consequence of dyslexia, anxiety is widely considered as a secondary symptom of dyslexia. Specific situations, tasks or events can trigger stress, anxiety and other negative thoughts in dyslexics. Yet, despite these somewhat psychologically damaging effects, anxiety levels can be managed and then reduced. This post topic is very personally important to me. So often, from both my own experiences and the time spent alongside other dyslexics, I have seen first-hand the worry, anxiety and stress dyslexics face when presented with task or situations they find extremely challenging. Crucially, these feelings and emotions should not be ignored. Instead, a proactive stance and uniquely tailored support strategies ought to be adopted to best assist each individual.
Davis Dyslexia Association International. (2008). Common Characteristics of Adult Dyslexia. Accessed on November 10th 2019, at www.dyslexia.com/about-dyslexia/signs-of-dyslexia/common-characteristics-of-adult-dyslexia.
International Dyslexia Association. (2019). The Dyslexia-Stress-Anxiety Connection. Accessed on 10th November 2019 at, dyslexiaida.org/the-dyslexia-stress-anxiety-connection.
Novita, S. (2016). Secondary Symptoms of Dyslexia: A Comparison of Self-esteem and Anxiety Profiles of Children with and without Dyslexia. European Journal of Special Needs Education. Accessed on 10th November 2019, at www.researchgate.net/publication/290248348 Secondary symptoms of dyslexia: a comparison of self-esteem and anxiety proﬁles of children with and without dyslexia.
Rosen, P. (2019). Dyslexia and Anxiety: What you need to Know. Accessed on 10th November 2019, at www.understood.org/en/learning-thinking-differences/child-learning-disabilities/dyslexia/dyslexia-and-anxiety-in-children