Supporting The Anxious Student
Anxiety among our youth and teens is becoming increasingly prevalent in today’s society. There is so much going on in this day and age, and the varying pressures that students are facing are causing more mental health concerns than ever before. Students are faced with “fitting in” and this concern is only exacerbated by the impact of social media and other media outlets. Students now have 24/7 access to what their peers are doing on a regular basis, and this fact alone increases the chance of feeling left out or feeling isolated. In other cases, students are victims of cyberbullying, which also causes feelings of inadequacy and increased anxiety. Student safety is another cause for concern and anxiety among our students. Many students do not always feel safe in their schools, as a result of the many school tragedies that have been highly publicized in the media. Some have also experienced trauma at home or school that have led them to experience anxiety about the events that have occurred. Many of our students live in a constant state of fear and worry and continually think “What if ?”
It doesn’t matter what age, race, gender. Anxiety does not discriminate. Students are facing pressure to be “perfect” in school, with athletics and other outside activities. Some students feel pressured or expected to maintain straight A’s, and when they receive their first “B”, the student’s ability to cope with a less than perfect grade, may be just enough to trigger fear, insecurity, and anxiety. Some students are experiencing anxiety due to balancing school work, sports, and some may even be working an outside job to help support their family at home. Some students aren’t given the opportunity to face adversities through their school career and therefore, they do not know how to effectively cope with failure or rejection of any kind. This may lead to feelings of anxiety and inadequacy as well.
All of these issues mentioned, negatively impact self-esteem, peer interactions, home and school relationships, and also academic performance. Sometimes student anxiety is easy to identify, while at other times, anxiety can look like something entirely different.
Some of the more obvious signs and symptoms for anxiety in youth and teens may include: persistent feelings of dread and jumpiness, frequent panic attacks, as well as headaches, stomach problems, shortness of breath, tense muscles, shakiness, dizziness, and fatigue. Students experiencing anxiety may appear tired and lethargic due to lack of sleep and worry.
Other, more difficult signs/symptoms may include: inattention and restlessness, noncompliance, lack of work completion, overwhelm regarding simple tasks, outward behavior issues in younger students, anger outburst, attendance problems or school refusal, disruptive behaviors (asking a lot of questions or talking out), and frequent trips to the nurse to avoid a class or peers. For some students, they may appear unmotivated to complete work. When in reality, they want to do well academically, but are paralyzed by the fear and anxiety regarding failure or not living up to a perceived expectation.
What can we do as educators to help our students with anxiety?
We can begin by breaking the stigma associated with mental health challenges such as anxiety. Anxiety is something that happens, not something you are. It does not define the student.
The idea is to change the terminology from mental health or mental illness to mental wellness. What can we do to improve mental wellness when it comes to youth?
We as educators need to let all students know that “it is okay to not be okay.” We can talk to students about reaching out to a trusted friend, parent, or adult mentor when they feel anxious or have feelings of fear or persistent negative thoughts that interfere with their daily life. We need to normalize anxiety for them, and let them know that everyone experiences some level of anxiety at some point in their lives whether it be large or small.
We can teach our students easy deep breathing exercises, the power of positive self-talk, healthy nutrition/diet, meditation, and the importance of getting adequate sleep.
We can also teach them how to practice mindfulness (staying in the present and think of your senses- something you can see, hear, touch, and smell.) Focus on that and try to keep your mind from wandering.
Exercise or take a walk- there is a lot of research surrounding the importance of physical movement in regards to reducing symptom of anxiety.
Listen to soothing music or read a funny book or watch a funny show.
Surround yourself with people who lift you up and provide you with positive interactions.
Encourage involvement with SAP or school based or outpatient therapy with both parents and students.
Free Videos and Apps
Stop Watch Tap Technique (Rhythmic Relaxation)
Brain Breaks- Go Noodle
Stop Breathe Think
Mindful Gnat, Calm, Pinwheel Breathing
Breathe 2 Relax, Breathe, Think, Do