School is in session and anxiety is starting to build! Classes are becoming more difficult and teens are recognizing that homework is inevitable. For some, relationships are shifting and due to activities and interests, it’s becoming more difficult to spend quality time with their friends. These stressful and overwhelming situations can often cause anxiety.
Teens who experience anxiety in the school setting may exhibit these signs:
How to help:
One of the best things you can do for your teen/student with school anxiety, in addition to encouraging them to seek counseling, is to learn how to effectively provide support and encouragement.
First, remember that they have a mental health disorder - it’s not a character flaw or weakness, nor is it something he or she can just overcome with more determination or willpower. Try to avoid nagging or lecturing them. If you have concerns, talk to your teen in an open, honest, and respectful manner.
Second, learn everything you can about their experience with anxiety. Ask them what triggers it, how their body feels, automatic thoughts that they have, and how they perceive situations. This will help you have more empathy for them and their challenges. The intense anxiety and irrational thoughts of those with an anxiety disorder may seem strange and even ridiculous at times. Try not to judge or criticize what they are experiencing as this can intensify the assumptions they already have.
Be careful to not enable their avoidant behavior by lowering your expectations or constantly “rescuing” them from uncomfortable situations. It’s okay if they experience some anxiety. If you keep trying to protect them, you’ll reinforce their lack of confidence in being able to handle it. Maybe talk about and role play with them to help him or her figure out ways to handle difficult social scenarios.
Be mindful of how you handle your own fears and anxiety. Model appropriate coping skills for them. If you’re suffering from anxiety, seek treatment for yourself as well. Although difficult at times, strive to remain calm when they are feeling anxious- if you become anxious or frustrated it will feed into their anxiety.
Lastly, celebrate and praise their progress and accomplishments, no matter how small they may seem to you!