As young people, we can struggle with our mental health and experience conditions such as stress and anxiety. In this modern age, we have the added pressure of social media on top of the already existing challenge of growing up. While social media platforms can be a brilliant way to stay connected, they can also be harmful to our mental wellbeing.
As students we all get a little nervous or stressed at times due to school. Whether it’s due to it being new, the amount of work we get given or any other aspect of ordinary school life, it is a normal part of life. But if these feelings of stress and anxiety persist, making it difficult for you to focus or feel safe at school then you may have a condition called school anxiety.
If you are feeling stressed and anxious, especially about school, this article is definitely worth a read, giving you 14 tips on how to deal with it.
What is School Anxiety?
School anxiety is anxiety that is triggered by some aspect of school life. School anxiety is not an official diagnosis but a symptom of another anxiety disorder. It affects students of all ages and can develop into school refusal, which affects between 2% and 5% of all school age children. It is often linked to separation anxiety, especially in younger students, but it can also be a symptom of other anxiety disorders such as: Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Selective Mutism, Social Anxiety, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and specific phobias.
Anxiety is “what we feel when we are worried, tense or afraid.” Feeling anxious can just be a normal part of everyday life but it becomes a problem when:
- your feelings of anxiety are very strong or last for a long time
- your anxiety is out of proportion to the situation
- you avoid situations that might cause you to feel anxious
- your worries feel are hard to control
- you often experience symptoms of anxiety, which could include panic attacks
- you find it hard to go about your daily life or do things you enjoy.
Anxiety can have many causes as everyone who is affected by it will have their own experience. Some common causes of school anxiety include: having an underlying anxiety disorder, social pressures, entering a new school, lack of sleep and academic struggles. Alternatively, school anxiety may be caused due to factors that are separate to student life, such as bereavement, parents’ divorce, or trauma. These factors can make you lose your sense of security, which could extend to your school life and trigger school anxiety. However, there could be many others reasons why students may experience this, especially as it is not always clear what the cause is.
What are the Symptoms of School Anxiety?
The symptoms of school anxiety can be both mental and physical and are what makes you feel uncomfortable or unsafe in school. As school anxiety is considered to be a symptom in itself, you may also experience symptoms of an official anxiety disorder as well as these ones.
Due to attending school students may experience:
- Extreme emotional distress
- Low mood
- Difficulty sleeping, especially on school nights
- Stomach aches
How Can You “Deal” With School Anxiety?
School anxiety is not something that you can just ignore because that could lead to it getting worse, possibly to the extent of you not being able to attend school due to this anxiety.
There are many methods to help you manage and reduce anxiety conditions such as school anxiety. It is essential that you find healthy and effective ways that help you feel safer and more in control, especially when you are at school. Here are some tips on how you could naturally try to manage your anxiety. Please note that these are just suggestions, you may be able to find other healthy methods of dealing with your school anxiety that aren’t included in this list.
1. Take Care of Yourself
To look after and improve your mental wellbeing, it is essential that you are also looking after your physical wellbeing as well. You have to make sure that you are eating and sleeping properly, especially on school days. A lack of sleep will make you irritable and tired the next day and it is likely to increase your stress and anxiety.
Not eating properly, which could be either eating too much, too little, or simply not the right foods, can also negatively affect you. Not eating enough can give you a lack of energy, make you feel cold and make it harder for you to sleep. Eating too much, however, can make you feel bloated and nauseous. Both of these would make a day at school with anxiety even harder.
It is recommended that teenagers get a minimum of 8 to 10 hours of sleep every night, so, try your best to get them. Make sure you carry your lunch to school or that you are able to get something to eat when you are at school. Eating foods with grains such as oats in the mornings can also help you to feel better as energy will slowly be released throughout the day.
2. Understand What it is
Solving a problem without knowing what it truly is, is virtually impossible. In this article, I have given you a brief summary but you may get a more valuable understanding of it if you ask a mental health professional or do some research based on your own personal symptoms.
To understand what it is more than just knowing its definition but also knowing how it affects you personally. With any kind of anxiety, every person has their own experience. You may experience more or less physical or mental symptoms than someone else but that doesn’t make your struggles any less valid.
3. Identify its Cause and Your Triggers
Knowing what initially caused your school anxiety may help to reduce it. With school anxiety, your previous sense of security and safety that you would feel at school disappears and you are left feeling anxious and overwhelmed. If you are aware of what initially destroyed your sense of security you may be able to reduce the anxiety. If you are able to directly address the matter, whether physically for issues such as bullying, or emotionally with counselling and therapy, it may help you.
Knowing your triggers is maybe even more important as there will be more of them. Talking about the things at or about that make you worry and feel anxious can help to begin solving the problem. You could write these down in a journal and use this to begin to understand yourself better.
4. Tell Someone
It is important that you are not going through this alone. Tell someone that you trust, who can help you navigate what to do such as a parent, carer, or responsible older sibling. If not, you can tell someone that you trust at your school, such as your form tutor or another member of staff who will be able to help you.
Talking to someone about what you are struggling with may also help you to feel less pressured to keep it to yourself. Talking about what you are struggling with may also help to keep it from overwhelming you.
When you tell them, remember that what you are suffering with is nothing to be ashamed of. It is estimated that 1 in 10 people experience anxiety or specific phobias, so you are most definitely not alone.
5. Inform Your School
Informing your school could make it easier for you to deal with and for your school to understand, especially if your school work is affected. Every school is different but they could refer you to their pastoral care team, help you come up with ways to manage your anxiety or give you support in some other way.
6. Make a Change
After identifying the anxiety’s cause and what your triggers are, it would be a good idea to make a change to try and make you feel more comfortable at school. Firstly, try to think of one thing that you have the power to change in your school environment that would make you feel more comfortable to come into school. This could be getting a stress ball or even having inspiring and motivating words written where you can see them for whenever you are feeling particularly panicked. But whatever it is try to make it something that is allowed within school, as getting told off or having it confiscated may lead you to feel worse.
7. Keep a Journal
Using a journal or a diary could be a great place to note down exactly what you are feeling. With this book you could write down what triggers you and makes you feel anxious. This would be a great way to reflect and understand what you feel slightly better.
Another way of using a journal is to fill it with things that will inspire you, help you get through the school day and face the anxiety. You could include pictures or mementos of times you remember feeling happy and safe to try and help you feel safer while at school.
8. Create a Routine
Routines can be an effective way to manage your anxiety. If you create a routine of all the things you need to do before school and try your best to do them it may make you feel more prepared for the day ahead. However, you must keep your routine healthy and safe for your mental wellbeing, so you shouldn’t feel pressure to do it. If this is the case, please talk to someone.
Routines can also help you to take care of yourself so you remember to eat properly and sleep along with other actions to get you prepared for school. Try to avoid putting specific times on the things that you have to do as if you are unable to do them at these specific times, it may cause you to feel out of control and overwhelmed.
9. Use Breathing Exercises
When you feel yourself beginning to panic, try some breathing exercises. This can help to make you feel more relaxed and in control of the situation because physically your body will feel the same as it does when you are relaxed. It can also help to reduce symptoms of depression and it can help to slow down your heart if it is beating too fast.
10. Learn to Relax
We all think that we know how to relax, but do we really? Learning to relax is probably one of the most important skills for students as it helps us to learn to balance between student life and our own personal lives.
Relaxing can mean many different things for different people as we all have our own unique views, opinions, likes and dislikes. One person may enjoy playing team sports to help relax and feel more energised. But for someone else, they may prefer quieter activities such as reading or writing and find team sports to be unsettling. The main principle of learning to relax is that it is something you enjoy and do not feel obligated or forced to do and, in this case, also something that helps to reduce the anxiety.
Another meaning of relax is something that gives your mind rest. Techniques such as mindfulness and meditation can be great ways to do this. Think of the things that make you feel rested and peaceful emotionally and try to do them often.
11. Practice Mindfulness
Mindfulness is a technique, where you actively notice what is happening in the moment. Connecting yourself with the current moment can be excellent in reducing stress. For some people it can also help to manage anxiety and cope with overwhelming and unhelpful thoughts.
However, mindfulness is not recommended for people who have social anxiety and it could also have a negative impact on people who suffer with school anxiety. Although for this it would very much depend on your triggers. If physically being in school and the school building itself make you feel anxious, I would suggest that you do not use this technique.
12. Do Some Yoga
Yoga is not just a new fitness trend, in fact it is an ancient form of exercise that focuses on strength, flexibility and breathing to boost physical and mental wellbeing. Yoga is often said to be a great way to reduce stress and anxiety; Mind, a mental health charity, even considers it as an alternative type of therapy for anxiety.
Yoga is a great way to relax and is even something that you can add to your morning routine to help to prepare you for the day ahead, especially when you have to go into school.
13. Go Walking
Both getting outdoors and doing exercise are seen as great ways to reduce stress and anxiety, walking is one of the easiest ways to do both at the same time. As it is a very simple activity, you can start and finish whenever you want, giving you more flexibility if you want to go for a walk every day.
Going on walk could also give you a chance to process your thoughts and have a break from normal aspects of daily life. You could even plan your route so that you can connect with nature or see some beautiful scenery.
14. Do a Digital Detox
Taking a digital detox can be a great way to rededicate time to the things in your life that you have stopped doing. Also, you could find new things to do that don’t require the use of your phone, mobile devices, or computer. This could be anything from singing, dancing, and playing sports to reading books, playing sudoku and even learning a new language (without using the internet).
Digital devices emit blue light, this can make it take longer to fall asleep and cause disruptions during your sleep. While facing school anxiety, getting the suggested 8 to 10 hours sleep is crucial to your health, so a digital detox can be very helpful.
Social media is another factor in why taking a digital detox is so important. As students, we often use social media. We can often feel pressured by the standards of “perfection” and “normality” that has been set and we may even feel as though we need to change ourselves to meet these standards. Taking a break from this, for a few hours a week can be incredibly beneficial to your mental wellbeing and it can also help to reduce increase in your anxiety.
When Should You Seek Help?
An important part of looking after your mental wellbeing is having other people around you to help. Getting help from the people around you or a professional is nothing to feel ashamed of. In fact, it is a natural way to respond to how you are feeling.
You should contact your GP or a mental health professional if your symptoms get worse and the anxiety is affecting your daily life. This could mean that you have a loss of appetite, you’re struggling to sleep or more specifically to school anxiety you are finding it difficult to focus in class and do work due to the anxiety. Your symptoms could also progress to a condition called school refusal.
School refusal is “recognised by psychologists as a disorder in which a child will not attend school for fear of bringing on the physical and mental symptoms of extreme anxiety.” The symptoms of school refusal are similar to that of school anxiety but they go beyond.
- Physical symptoms (such as nausea, dizziness, stomach aches, headaches, etc.)
- Extreme determination not to attend school (reluctance to get dressed, to leave the house or enter the school premises)
- Feelings of anxiety and agitation on days when going to school
- Difficulties in settling to sleep on school nights.
- The symptoms appear to settle fairly quickly after getting into school.
- These symptoms are worse the night before starting a new school week, after school holidays, and are less obvious during weekends and holidays.
- Feeling genuine fear of attending school and often wanting to be on their own at home or outside of school.
Resources That You May Find Useful:
Understanding what you are feeling and knowing ways that will help you feel better is a necessary step to deal with conditions such as school anxiety and anxiety in general. In this article, there are some examples of healthy ways to help you manage with the anxiety and begin to feel better but it doesn’t include all of them. You may find it helpful to do some research of your own into what school anxiety is and find other ways to manage it safely and healthily if the ways included in this article don’t work for you.
Information about anxiety, school anxiety and school refusal
- Useful article about ‘School Phobia’ – BBC Newsround.
- Detailed information about anxiety in general- Mind UK.
- Anxiety in children and young people- NHS
- A video on identifying school anxiety- Naperville News
- Information about school refusal- CAMHS
Tips on dealing with anxiety, school anxiety and school refusal
- Tips on keeping mentally healthy as a student- Mind UK
- How to understand your feelings- Mind UK
- How to be kind to yourself- Lifehack
- How to relax- Mind UK
- How to deal with anxiety- BBC Newsround
- A guide to dealing with school anxiety- Young Minds (this guide is for parents but you can apply it to yourself)
- Learning breathing exercises- NHS
- How using creativity can help with anxiety- Mind UK
If you ever feel that you are unable to cope and need someone to talk to outside of the people in your daily life, helplines may be exactly what you need. There a not many resources here but you can also find what is in your local area, in terms of support groups and local charities, that may offer support.