What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is a normal and healthy reaction to a stressful situation. All teenagers experience some amount of anxiety at times and it is a very common presenting issue among students in school.
Stress affects everyone in different ways. Some stress can be positive as it makes students more alert and helps them to perform better. It can also help them deal with tense or challenging situations like starting post primary education, taking examinations, competing in sporting events, public speaking, going on a date etc.
However stress becomes distress when it is not short lived and when the young person is worried and anxious a lot of the time. It is also a problem when there is no obvious reason for them to feel anxious or stressed.
The most important messages that guidance counsellors and teachers can give to students is that:
- it is ok and normal to feel anxious and stressed
- this is something they can cope with
- it helps to talk about how they are feeling
- there are many techniques to deal with anxiety and stress
- there is always additional support available
Causes of Anxiety
There are many things that cause anxiety. Anxiety is individual i.e. what causes one person anxiety may not affect another.
You should be concerned when the anxiety that a student is experiencing is impacting significantly on their day to day functioning or if they are school refusing or experiencing Panic Attacks. Panic Attacks can be very frightening for students and also for teachers who are with the student when they occur. Additional seperate resources on Panic Attacks can be accessed via the 'further resources' link below.
The School Refusal Good Practice Guide for Schools is also a useful resource if a student is school refusing.
Symptoms of Anxiety
Anxiety affects people in different ways. It can affect the way people feel (physical symptoms), think (mental symptoms) and behave (behavioural symptoms). See Anxiety resources at the end of this page for further details. Being familiar with these symptoms is important, as it is key for identifying anxious students and aiding them to reduce symptoms.
How to Help a Student to Reduce their Anxious Feelings
There is no single technique to manage anxiety. However there are a number of techniques that when used together will reduce anxiety and its symptoms. See the Anxiety resources below (again) for further details.
Practicing relaxation creates the opposite effects to stress and anxiety. There are many relaxation techniques and different things work for different people. Teachers can introduce relaxation practices into their classes and encourage the students to continue to practise these at home. The resource Relaxation Techniques available at the link below provides a number of different practices that can be distributed to all staff. There are lots of free downloadable Mindfulness and Relaxation apps which can be highlighted and used by teachers. They can also be highlighted on the school website, school newsletter, noticeboards, at parent evenings etc.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is very effective in helping people manage anxiety. (More information on CBT can be found from a number of websites, including the HSE HERE)
Schools can contact www.HealthPromotion.ie for printed poster and postcard packs advertising the Little Things campaign, which was designed to remind us of the little things that make a big difference to how we feel.
Students experiencing anxiety or stress should be encouraged to talk to the Guidance Counsellor for short term extra support.
If they are reluctant to do this or if they need input from a more specialised service, encourage them to visit their GP who can refer them to CAMHS or another relevant service.