Students and Anxiety – A Reality for Some

So, why am I writing about anxiety? Because anxiety is a reality for all of us — and a state that can be debilitating for some. And, maybe … just maybe … by writing about the topic I might help to increase our collective awareness about this issue.

Anxiety is a normal emotion — one that can actually be healthy. Anxiety warns us about something that we should be worried about — a danger that may be lurking nearby. But, when you regularly feel a disproportionate level of anxiety — when it becomes an impediment to your progress through your day, anxiety can become a problem — something your doctor might diagnose as a medical disorder.

People with Anxiety Disorders can have recurring intrusive thoughts or concerns. For some of our students, these can translate into avoidance or panic — an inability to speak up in class, participate in group work, join sports teams or other activities that we know are healthy.

For a few, they may not even be able to enter into our learning spaces — our classrooms, hallways or schools — simply out of worry.

And then there are the physical symptoms — things such as sweating, nausea, trembling, dizziness, a rapid heartbeat, or performing repetitive actions.

So, what are Anxiety Disorders? They are a subclass of Mental Health disorders and are broken down into several categories:

OCD is like having a bully inside your head and no one else can see it
  • Panic Disorder
  • Phobias
  • Post-traumatic Stress Disorder
  • Obsessive-compulsive Disorder
  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder

They alter how a person processes emotions and they can often result in changes to one’s outward behaviors. They are believed to be the most common of all mental health problems with some estimates having approximately 1 in 10 Canadians affected by them.

People who suffer from Anxiety Disorders can have long, intense periods of fear and distress which are out of proportion to real events. Their brains interpret things to be much riskier or dangerous than what the risk actually represents. Their worlds are full of unease and fear, which interfere with their personal and professional lives.

Canadian Mental Health Association – Mental Health Week 2019 (68 years and counting)

All too often, people mistake these disorders for mental weakness or instability. The social stigma that can be attached to mental illness often prevents those with anxiety disorders from asking for help.

The good news is that anxiety disorders can be successfully treated once they are recognized, acknowledged and addressed. Many of our children and students are dealing with anxiety and some of them are dealing with it as a disorder. The more we know about the signs and symptoms the better we are able to direct them towards possible medical support.

Counselling therapy can often be part of a successful treatment plan for anxiety disorders

And while I’m not going to spend time discussing the various treatments that are available, if you suspect that you or someone you know suffers from an anxiety disorder, talk to your doctor or health care provider. They can recommend a specialist in anxiety disorders or direct you to a specialized anxiety disorder clinic.

The most important thing is to seek assistance. Here in BC we have a number of resources to help those who need more information. Two excellent sites I’ve found include:

Disproportionate anxiety is treatable and there can be positive outcomes. This is Mental Health Week in Canada — It’s time to speak up.

4 thoughts on “Students and Anxiety – A Reality for Some

  1. I have to say, I think this is an area where Saanich schools could really improve. Mental health issues like anxiety and ADHD in younger children can present as behaviour problems, including aggression and defiance, as the adrenaline floods their brains and particularly if their instinctive response is to fight. I would like to see a lot more training for elementary teachers and administrators to be able to recognize these issues and deal with them appropriately. In our case the response was to urge us to go to parenting classes and to discipline our child, which did nothing to help his anxiety.

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    • Dear Kathryn. Thank you for your comments. One of the important goals in our school district is to continue to put increased emphasis on mental health awareness and literacy — including the issue of student anxiety. Some of our current initiatives include things like EASE (Everyday Anxiety Strategies for Educators), implementing Capacity Cafes for our staff as well as building awareness around trauma-informed practices. We work with our community partners as well as the Ministry of Education to provide on-going in-service opportunities for our professional team. And while there is always more that we can do, I am proud of the work we are currently doing to improve awareness and capacity in our team.

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  2. Thank you for this blog and acknowledging the different levels of anxiety that exist in students I believe that slowly over time from generation to generation the stigma and negative connotations surrounding mental health will subside and mental health will be responded to on the same level as physical health.

    I have a child who experiences anxiety to the level where she currently is not able to be in the classroom. This of course did not start all of a sudden and there has been ups and downs for her since grade 1. We have had very positive experiences with teachers and school administrators and we have also had not so positive experiences.
    She has had 4 school districts in 4 provinces since she started school in 2009.

    The last couple of years SD63 has done a great job helping her and us navigate the ups and downs of the extreme anxiety. Middle school can be a tough time and with the changes of puberty, social relationships and many other things that affect kids at this age, I really have to applaud the job that the teachers and staff do. My daughter has had the experience of pretty much every facet and opportunity available to a middle schooler with anxiety. I believe the resources and programs are amazing as well as the people running them. They could use more warm bodies as the need seems to be increasing as more and more kids are experiencing it.

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    • Hi Cindy. Thank you for your comments. Mental Health awareness and literacy continue to be important concepts in our district and a focus in our in-service opportunities. I am glad that your daughter has not only been supported but feels like she is understood in our schools. We look forward to continued growth in this critical area for student success.

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