Students with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) experience excessive and uncontrollable worry about future events and minor matters. This can include worry about health of self and others, finances, the environment and global affairs, parents’ marital satisfaction or family stability, academic or athletic performance, perfectionism, punctuality, and more. Worry is considered excessive and uncontrollable when the student is worrying more than others would, and if he or she cannot stop worrying once it has started. This worry occurs most days and is accompanied by at least three or more physical symptoms such as fatigue, feeling amped up, trouble concentrating, irritability, muscle tension, and sleep difficulties. Although all youth sometimes experience worry about a range of events and activities, for students with GAD this worry is excessive, ongoing, uncontrollable, physically draining, and significantly negatively impacts his/her quality of life.

How a GAD impacts the student at school

Young students worry about straightforward, and immediate matters such as their academic performance, safety of the classroom, and fitting in or being liked. In addition, they are more likely to complain about physical symptoms instead of specific worries: sore muscles, sleep problems, or stomach or head aches. For example, the day before a school project your student might complain of a stomachache and ask to go home early rather than saying, “I’m afraid to turn in my project because I think I will do badly.”

As students mature, their thinking becomes more complex, and so too do their worries. For example, a student might inquire, “What if my term grade of a “C” in grade 5 limits my choice of university?” In addition, the negative impact of the ongoing, constant worry becomes more apparent the older the student gets. Teachers, staff, and other adults are able to see that the student “looks” different than other students, seeming exhausted, irritable, and unable to relax and enjoy life. It is as if they are an old soul trapped in a young body. Their time is often spent worrying, over studying or over-correcting to get the “perfect” outcome, frequently checking about minor matters, negotiating for extra credit, and more.

As a result, these students miss out on important aspects of school such as field trips, enjoying academic pursuits and passions, and making and maintaining friendships. Sadly, students with GAD can be hard to tolerate because their worry and related behaviours can be taxing for the busy teacher. At other times, students with GAD make the life of the teacher easy, and these students can be labeled as “dream students,” as they are always punctual, put in 100% effort, are hardworking and responsible, and more. However, these attributes come at a price for the student, who may opt out of social activities, get little sleep, and feel worried and on edge all the time.

Downloadable Resource: Coping Strategies for Supporting Students

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