By Penny Sitler, Executive Director
Back to School and Anxiety
As everyone prepares for school’s August kickoff, anxiety looms for some students and teachers. Do you know the signs of distress? How about methods for guiding someone through anxious moments?
Anxiety is the most common mental health disorder and nearly everyone experiences some degree of anxiety, fears and worries. “Anxiety is a normal experience that typically reflects anticipation about events that might have a negative outcome,” according to Kim Killu and R. Marc A. Crundwell in their article “Students with Anxiety in the Classroom: Education Accommodations and Interventions.” Anxiety can cause children from kindergarten through high school to have difficulty getting through school days and can impact school performance. It’s important that students and teachers develop coping skills for anxious moments.
Whether your child is a brand-new student or an experienced student returning to school, each new year can cause feelings of anxiety. Sometimes it starts during the summer as school nears and students begin to wonder about teachers, who will be in their class and how they’ll get along.
Something most local schools do to demystify the new year is hold open houses to introduce teachers to students before school starts. Be sure to join your child at these events as they often help reduce anxiety for students and can make the first few days less stressful.
The most obvious signs and symptoms of anxiety in children are crying and terror of being separated from family. Also be on the lookout for students who isolate themselves, seem irritable, refuse to eat, appear extra tired, have trouble concentrating or display nervous behaviors like nail-biting. Teachers and parents can both help by letting students know that it’s okay to be nervous and that you are there to support them.
One technique that helps divert the brain away from anxious thoughts is grounding. Dr. Sarah Allen, a clinical psychologist, notes, “When we start to think about something stressful, our amygdala… goes into action. The amygdala, simply put, is the part of our brain that is responsible for our emotional responses, especially fear. It is great for preparing for emergency events, but sometimes it kicks into action and detects a threat where there really isn’t any.” According to Dr. Allen, grounding techniques help break the cycle of anxiety by refocusing on what’s around us through our senses.
Try using the 5-4-3-2-1 Grounding Technique with anyone who is experiencing anxiety. Students can say or write down what they see, feel, hear, smell, or taste.Get the News Alerts newsletter in your inbox.
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SEE: Have students look around for five things they can see.
FEEL: Ask students to list four things they can feel.
HEAR: Students should listen for three sounds they can hear.
SMELL: Have students identify two things they can smell.
TASTE: Ask students to state one thing they can taste or want to taste.
Finish by taking a deep, cleansing breath.
Learning how to refocus will help children and adults alike gain control of their feelings and reactions, allowing them to relax and adapt to their new environment. If someone struggles with intense anxiousness for several weeks with no sign of relief, don’t hesitate to have them speak with a doctor or mental health professional. The earlier someone receives help for anxiety or any mental health condition, the better outcomes will be. Remember, it’s OK to not be OK and help is available!
Published Aug. 11, 2019 in the Newark Advocate