As educators, increasing your awareness of the impact of anxiety is important for supporting your students and yourself. This section is designed to assist you in becoming more knowledgeable about how anxiety presents in students in a school setting.
Is my student struggling with an anxiety disorder?
Anxiety is useful in certain situations, some of the time. But how do you, the teacher or administrator, know when a student might be struggling with an anxiety disorder? In some situations, it may be obvious. For example, a young student who still cries and clings to his mother each morning at drop off, and remains sad and tearful for the first hour of each day despite school being in session for six months. Or the student who has lost her sister to suicide and now withdraws from others, has difficulty concentrating, is jumpy, and skips class daily. And finally, there is the student that spends upwards of thirty minutes in the bathroom several times a day, and has red, chapped, and bleeding hands. These highlight the more obvious examples of anxiety disorders in the classroom.
However, anxiety can be an invisible disorder, not necessarily noted by the busy teacher. For example, a student who is performing below their capacity, is late to school most days, and is reluctant to read out loud in class. Or a child who is known as a “dream student”, but unbeknownst to you spends upwards of six hours daily doing homework to perfection, has trouble sleeping due to fear of failure, and refuses to engage in any non-educational activities for fear it will rob her of essential learning opportunities. These students are also struggling with anxiety disorders.
Students spend between 25-30 hours or more in school each week. As teacher or administrative staff, you’re in a position to play an essential role in identifying and assisting students with unwanted anxiety.
The first step is to become educated about what anxiety disorders look like in students within the classroom setting. Anxiety specialists have identified that when a child or teen experiences anxiety more often (e.g., most days, and for months at a time), and more intensely than other peers of the same age, it is more likely that the student has an anxiety disorder.
Furthermore, the frequent and intense symptoms that students with anxiety disorders encounter, often leads to significant disruption in their lives. This disruption can interrupt or even stop a student from participating in a variety of typical school-based experiences, such as:
- Attending classes and school on a daily basis
- Completing assignments
- Joining social, athletic or recreational clubs
- Making friends
- Participating in class
If you believe a student is experiencing symptoms of anxiety that are excessive, intense, and disruptive, we advise that you begin by consulting with your school counselor or principal.
Once you have done this, you may consider scheduling a meeting with the student and/or their family to gather more information, and to provide resources such as the MindShift CBT app or My Anxiety Plan (MAP).
You can also use The CARD™ system (Comfort, Ask, Relax, Distract), a science-based, proven framework to help prepare your students for stressful events, like school-based vaccinations, presentations, and examinations. A free CARD™ Toolkit for Educators is available for download here.
Help students recognize anxiety in their lives with our ‘Caretoons‘ animated series, a fun and educational way to introduce mental health topics to your class. Using humour and heart, Drexal the alien and Chris Crust the time-travelling pizza slice give students a chance to learn about their mental health and know that it’s okay to feel anxious. These short, entertaining animations help students to learn coping techniques and realize that they can ask for help.