Everyone has worries and fears. Everyone panics sometimes when under pressure. Everyone has suffered with anxiety at some point in their life. But for some people, anxiety looms overhead, every hour of every day, like a dark cloud threatening a downpour.
Writing in the 11 May issue of Tes, science writer Kat Arney explores the reality of living with an anxiety disorder. It is a reality that an increasing number of students seem to be facing.
“Imagine yourself in the moment between realising you are falling and hitting the ground. Think about how that feels,” she writes
“Imagine the panic, the fear, the gnawing sickness that erupts within you. Your heart thuds and your breathing becomes faster. Now imagine that same feeling persisting for days, weeks, months or even years.”
Whether growing numbers of young people are seeking help for anxiety disorders because of rising exam pressures, or our increasing acceptance of mental health issues, it is clear that students are in need of some extra support.
So, as a teacher, what steps can you take to help your students?
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.
1. Normalise it
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.
2. Understand the 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.
3. Do something
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 NHS child and adolescent mental health services, which can be accessed via a GP.
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. Celebrate success
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.
To read this article in full, pick up a copy of the 11 May issue of Tes from your local newsagent or subscribe to read online.