Identifying and managing anxiety in your students

Identifying and managing anxiety in your students

Just for a moment, think about the students in your class. Do some engage in fewer activities? Are there others who are missing a lot of school? Is there a particular student who has trouble socialising?

If you answered ‘yes’ to any of the above, it’s possible that such behaviour is a result of anxiety.

Last year, a survey into the mental health and wellbeing of Australian adolescents found anxiety disorders to be one of the most prevalent forms of mental health problems.

So the question begs: Why doesn’t anxiety get the same attention as other mental health problems, such as depression and eating disorders?

According to Professor Jennie Hudson, Centre for Emotional Health at Macquarie University, there are a couple of reasons.

“In the past, people thought it was something that adolescents would grow out of naturally, says Hudson. “Also, when an adolescent is anxious, it’s a more internal experience, and it’s often hard to know how much they worry.”

How do you know if a student has an anxiety disorder?

The easiest way to tell is through conversation, as some students are open to discussing their concerns and behaviours. However, this isn’t always the case.

Other telltale signs include:

  • Repetitive, negative questioning
  • Missing activities
  • Expressions of panic
  • Restlessness
  • Easily fatigued
  • Irritable
  • Lack of concentration

What not to do

Anxiety is not something that adolescents automatically grow out of, and there’s evidence that emotional disorders early in life predict a range of mental health problems later on.

So ignoring the problem and presuming that it will ‘sort itself out’ is simply not the answer.

What to do

Professor Hudson believes that early intervention is the key.

Here are a few ways you can help students who are going through some tough times.

  • Offer gentle encouragement of approach – avoidance keeps the anxiety front and centre. Encourage the student to gradually face the situation at hand.
  • Break it down – break big challenges into small steps, with each small step having sufficient exposure to ease their fears.
  • Rewards – rewarding a student who has faced a fear or difficult situation is encouraged.
  • Change their thinking – you can do this with simple questions that help them to think of the situation in a different way. Replace worst-case scenarios with questions like ‘what’s the most likely outcome?’ or ‘What happened last time?’
  • Seek professional help – if the impact of the student’s anxiety is significant you may want to help the student or the family find professional help.

The Centre for Emotional Health – Changing lives

The Centre for Emotional Health (CEH) conducts specialist clinical research aimed at furthering the understanding of child and adult emotional disorders, as well as continually improving methods of treatment. It is a Macquarie University Centre for research excellence.

The centre is under the directorship of Professor Jennie Hudson, an internationally recognised, leading researcher in the field of youth anxiety.

Visit mq.edu.au/ceh for more information and treatment enquiries.

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Content owner: Department of Educational Studies Last updated: 04 Jul 2017 1:16pm

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