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?
As discussed throughout this website, 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, you have 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 examples highlight the more obvious cases 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 his/her 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 or more hours in school each week, and you the teacher or administrative staff is in a position to play an essential role in identifying and assisting students to tackle 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 that 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 then consider scheduling a meeting with the student and/or his/her family to gather more information, and to provide resources such as the MindShift CBT app or My Anxiety Plan (MAP).