Anxiety is becoming increasingly prevalent in our society, particularly amongst young people. Recognising the signs and offering support can make a significant difference in your students’ academic performance and overall happiness. In this blog, we’ll explore different aspects of anxiety from recognising the signs and understanding emotionally-based school avoidance, to practical tips to manage your mental health.

Anxiety in the UK 

For Mental Health Awareness Week 2023, the Mental Health Foundation found that nearly half the young people and students in their research, indicated that anxiety had affected their day-to-day life.

Similarly, in their 2022 Good Childhood Report,the Children’s Society evidenced that children’s happiness continues to decline. Now, five children in a classroom of 30 are likely to have a mental health problem which could include anxiety.

With many children and young people suffering from anxiety, it is therefore more important for educators to be prepared to recognise the signs and offer appropriate support to their students. 

What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is something everyone experiences during their life. It is a natural reaction to stress and is often characterized by feelings of worry and unease. Anxiety is our natural response to danger, back when we were hunters and we needed that mechanism to alert us to danger. It is our natural response to danger and so its very useful but its not useful when we aren’t actually in danger and so we need to do things that calm our nervous system down and send a message to our brain that we are safe, we are ok, we are not in danger.

While it is normal for people to experience occasional anxiety, any chronic or excessive anxiety can interfere with our daily lives and have a negative impact on our overall mental health and wellbeing. 

Anxiety vs Feeling Anxious

It’s important for both teachers and students to be able to distinguish between normal feelings of anxiousness and clinically significant anxiety disorders. It is completely normal to feel anxious in response to a stressful situation, such as a test or presentation. However, if the anxiety your student is experiencing is constant and excessive then you may require more support. 

Signs of Anxiety

Recognising signs of anxiety in students can be challenging, as symptoms may vary widely. 

Some common signs include:

  • Persistent worry or apprehension
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability or restlessness
  • Fatigue or difficulty sleeping
  • Physical symptoms such as headaches, stomachaches, or muscle tension
  • Avoidance of certain situations or activities

Reasons Someone May Experience Anxiety

There are various factors that can contribute to a feeling of anxiety in your students including:

  • Genetic predisposition
  • Traumatic life events or experiences
  • Environmental stressors such as academic pressure or social challenges
  • Neurochemical imbalances in the brain

Emotionally-Based School Avoidance (EBSA)

Anna Freudrecently wrote a report on Emotionally-Based School Avoidance (EBSA) which is a term that refers to reduced or non-attendance at school by a child or young person that has roots in emotional, mental health or wellbeing issues. 

It is important to note that EBSA also doesn’t just mean not attending school entirely. Staff may also observe pupils:

  • Not going to their classroom
  • Not staying in class
  • Not attending some lessons 
  • Avoiding some physical spaces or people.

Managing Stress and Anxiety

Here are some of our young people, explaining some of their techniques for managing their own stress and anxiety. Sure this with your students to show other ways they can manage their mental health and wellbeing.

Tips for Managing Anxiety

We recognise that as teachers, you are not psychologists and cannot be an expert on everything. However, you do have trusted relationships with your students and therefore you can help. Here are some top tips on how to support your students.

Practice Mindfulness

Encourage students to practice mindfulness techniques. Introduce them to coping mechanisms such as deep breathing, meditation or yoga to help them cope with their stress and learn to relax.  For example, when your students are feeling anxious encourage them to try breathing in for 5 seconds, holding their breath, then breathing out for 5 seconds. This will send a message to their brain that they aren’t in danger and will start to relax their nervous system.

Encourage Healthy Habits

Share various ways students can practice self-care and promote healthy habits such as exercise, the benefits of fresh air, getting enough sleep and staying hydrated. Check out our wellbeing post for more tips! 

Promote Open Communication

It is vital to create safe spaces where students feel comfortable expressing themselves. Also signpost resources and support that students can easily access. 

Offer Coping Strategies

Teaching students how to cope with their anxiety is a powerful tool. Coping strategies such as problem-solving skills or journaling can help them to manage any excess stress they may have. 

Educating Students

It is extremely important to educate students about the difference between feeling anxious about something and it being a deeper issue. Everyone will feel anxious during points in their lives and not all anxiety is bad. Anxiety over an upcoming test for example is completely normal. While anxiety that feels debilitating is not healthy or productive. Knowing the difference is extremely important to gauge when you may need further support.

Seek Professional Support

Signpost students to places where they can seek support both in and out of the classroom. Here are some links to supportive resources that you can share with your students. 

As educators, you have positive and strong relationships with your students and whilst, we are not therapists, we can be a listening ear and create a safe space for students to support them.

By understanding the signs of anxiety, addressing potential causes, and offering practical tips for managing it, we can create a nurturing learning environment where students feel valued, understood, and empowered to thrive. Let’s work together to break the stigma surrounding mental health and ensure that every student receives the support they need to succeed.