Coping with Student Anxiety
Fears, worries and some level of anxiety are normal and form part of our everyday life. It is our body and mind`s natural reaction to something stressful or dangerous. There are certain things that can trigger a fearful reaction - for example starting at a new school or moving homes. Anxiety becomes a problem when this normal response increases in its severity, is persistent and is so out of proportion that it hinders our day-to-day functioning.
Anxious students may not be able to verbalize the specific cause of their anxiety; they just know they are experiencing excessive and ongoing worry and/or fear about something. They may avoid situations or activities in school. They may start to decline in academics and have trouble focusing and concentrating, which may be confused with ADHD.
Anxiety symptoms may present differently among students at different ages, who may not be able to express what’s causing their anxiety and may instead exhibit symptoms. It is vital to be on the lookout for any of these symptoms:
- attendance problems
- clinginess/separation anxiety
- panic attacks
- academic problems/decline in schoolwork
- frequent urination
- frequent crying
- difficulty concentrating/staying focused
- feeling weak/tired
- excessive worrying
- health problems such as headaches or an upset stomach
- avoidance of people/situations
- sleeping problems
- Unusual running away/hiding
- Constant ‘what if’ questions
- Needing constant reassurance and validation
Step to support students
Establishing a routine - the structure and predictability of what to expect helps reduce the anxiety - consistency is always key!
Worry monster: You can help them make their own, out of an empty tissue box! The child will either draw or write out their worries and then ‘feed’ it to the worry monster. Explain to the child that it is the worry monster`s job to take care of the worries so they do not need to worry about them anymore.
Journaling: Journaling helps students clarify their thoughts and feelings, gaining valuable self-knowledge. Students can process their anxiety by fully exploring and releasing the emotions involved.
Strategies with Teachers
In addition to working with individual students, teachers can use strategies with an entire class. All the techniques above can easily be modified for classroom use. Teachers may find these activities useful at the beginning of the day, during transition times or before a test. Teachers can also serve as compelling role models for students. As teachers model relaxation techniques during class time, students internalize the importance of lifelong stress management.