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With the start of October next week, several students may be experiencing increased levels of stress due to impending midterms, class assignments, and a heavy workload. However, for some students, intense stress about school is their baseline. If that is the case, their feelings about school may be indicative of a more serious condition: school anxiety.
What is School Anxiety?
School anxiety is a condition that can affect any student. It typically manifests itself as excessive fear of school. In addition, students with school anxiety may also experience feelings of unease for school-related activities such as making friends, taking tests, or public speaking.
Though it is common, school anxiety (aka school refusal) is not officially recognized as a mental health diagnosis. Rather, it is associated as a symptom for other diagnoses such as depression, separation anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and others.
For more information, visit Medical News Today.
Stress vs AnxietyStress and anxiety have several overlapping symptoms including a faster heartbeat and faster breathing. As such, it can be easy to confuse one for the other. Here are key elements that can help one differentiate between stress and anxiety.
· short term
· external response to a specific, identifiable trigger
· can linger [often a lifelong diagnosis]
· internal response meaning there may not be a specific trigger
Plus, the feelings that accompany stress differ from those of an anxiety episode. Firstly, stress often leads to moodiness, irritability, or anger. Meanwhile, anxiety is characterized as an intense feeling of unease or dread. Secondly, stress may be accompanied by loneliness and unhappiness. On the other hand, anxiety is typically accompanied by restlessness and nervousness.
Nevertheless, it is important to note that stress may develop into anxiety. After all, one symptom of stress is having anxious thoughts.
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Symptoms of School AnxietyWhile school anxiety is recognized as excessive fear of school and its related activities, that fear can manifest itself in several different ways. In fact, school anxiety symptoms can be broken down into 3 main categories: physical, emotional, and behavioural symptoms.
· Stomachaches / Headaches
· Gastrointestinal (GI) Problems
· Excessive Sweating
· etc …
· Shame / Embarrassment
· Excessive Worry or Panic
· Constant Feeling of Impending Danger
· etc …
· Refusing to Attend Class
· Having Temper Tantrums
· Difficulty Concentrating
· etc …
For more information, visit the following websites:
1) Medical News Today
2) Mayo Clinic - Anxiety Disorders
3) Anxiety Canada
JR Bee (Verywell)
Ways to Manage School AnxietyIf you suspect yourself or someone you know may be suffering from school anxiety, here are some ways to help manage it.
1. Deep Breathing
a. When one is feeling anxious, both their heartbeat and breathing tend to quicken. By practicing deep, full-bodied breaths, one can help slow down their mind which reduces anxiety levels. For beginners, start with taking in one breath for 5 seconds then letting it out slowly over 5 seconds.
2. Enjoy the Outdoors
a. Taking a break can allow one to escape anxious thoughts. Plus, being out in nature has proven to help calm minds. Finally, being surrounded by the outdoors can help one engage in mindfulness activities [like grounding] as it provides several stimuli for different senses.
a. Allocating time to reflect on one’s day can help alleviate anxiety. To further help manage anxiety, it is recommended that one focus on positive thoughts and moments when journaling. These positive thoughts can help derail anxiety and its accompanying negative feelings.
a. Several studies have proven the effectiveness of exercise to manage mental health disorders. This is because exercise releases endorphins which promote pleasure. Plus, regular exercise helps one relax and improves one’s overall mood which can further lower symptoms of anxiety.
5. Reaching Out
a. Having a proper support system of friends and family is a crucial component of managing any disorder, including school anxiety. It is also important for one to openly discuss their anxiety with their support system. For school anxiety, it is also beneficial for one’s support system to include teachers.
a. If possible, look into possible accommodations to help alleviate school anxiety. Accommodations can include: extra time for tests/assignments, alternatives to class discussions, cue cards/cheat sheets, and others. Discuss what accommodations would work best for you with your teachers to ensure your academic success.
2. Daily Mood Check-Ins
a. If possible, create colour-coded mood cards that students can place on their desks at the start of the school day. Have one colour (eg. orange) signify the student needs a check-in with the teacher. This can help provide a safe space wherein the student feels comfortable addressing their anxious thoughts of the day (eg. feeling nervous about a pop quiz).
3. Comfort Spaces
a. If possible, create a safe space within the classroom for students to easily access helpful tools. The safe space should include healthy snacks since proper nutrition helps a student better manage overwhelming/anxious situations. In addition, the safe space can also include fidgets such as stress balls, marble fidgets, small pop-its, etc.
b. When possible, allow students to use the safe space during breaks to help regulate emotions. In addition, if the safe space includes a mat or bean bag chair, it can be used for naps and proper sleep also helps manage anxiety.
If you are experiencing school anxiety and are seeking professional help, consider booking a consultation with Inner Oak Therapy. We offer the following beneficial services: Child/Adolescent Therapy, Individual Therapy, and Group Therapy. In addition, Inner Oak offers Parent & Family Therapy - this service could help parents develop the interpersonal & communication skills needed to help their child manage school anxiety.
Written by Gabrielle Bulman Thomas