Paul Stallard, author of Think Good – Feel Good: A Cognitive Behaviour Therapy Workbook for Children and Young People, recommends that teachers take these six steps to help students cope with anxiety.
It’s important to know that everyone worries and gets anxious at times, and this is perfectly normal. But it’s also important to recognise when anxiety is taking over and interfering with life, and that it’s possible to do something about it.
Understand signals and triggers
Children don’t always realise that physical symptoms, such as feeling hot, dizzy or sick, may be manifestations of anxiety rather than illness. Encourage them to spot how their bodies change in response to specific situations – for example, noticing if they always feel sick in a certain class – and that this is their “fight or flight” response kicking in.
There are many simple skills and strategies for handling anxiety, including relaxation, mindfulness, controlled breathing, visualisation techniques and calming music. Specialist help is available for more severe anxiety from the NHS’ child and adolescent mental health services, which can be accessed via a GP.
Challenge negative thinking
Anxiety is characterised by catastrophic thinking, for example: “If I fail my exams, my life will be ruined forever!” Help young people to identify and challenge these negative thought patterns, and to develop a more balanced way of thinking.
Find practical solutions
Anxiety can make people feel paralysed and unable to make decisions or take action. Thinking through problems in a systematic way, identifying options and choosing the best path of action makes all the difference between feeling overwhelmed and being back in control.
Encourage children to look back on times when something was difficult or worrying, yet they managed to achieve a good outcome – when they felt the fear and did something anyway.
For more anxiety-busting tips: