Helping Students Work Through Anxiety

Ideas for helping students work through their jitters and develop coping mechanisms for dealing with anxiety.
The beginning of the school year brings up lots of emotions. One of the overpowering emotions can be anxiety. Struggling with anxiety as an adult is tough every day, but struggling with anxiety as a child can be even tougher, especially when you don't know what it is.

As teachers, or parents, it is important that we help our students to realize what anxiety is, and what we can do to help ease it. Sometimes it is not the grand gestures, but the little things we do throughout the day that make the larger impact. These suggestions are by no means a catch all, but they can begin the process of  alleviating nerves that can get in a student's way.

Validate Their Feelings

I cannot even begin to tell you how many times, even as an adult, I have been told to just stop worrying or being anxious because everything was fine. I know it's fine. I know nothing is catastrophically, life ending wrong, but my brain is playing tricks on me and telling me that it is. PLEASE do not tell students to just move on. 

Instead, recognize what students are feeling and talk to them about it. While you are talking, listen, really listen to what their concerns are. Encourage them to really share with phrases such as, "Tell me more about that," or "Let's make a list of all the things you are worried about."

By encouraging students to talk about their worries and validating how they are feeling about a situation it allows them to take ownership of the situation. Many times, just having someone who agrees with you is a lifesaver when you are worried, and talking about it will allow it to be worked out in your mind to a certain extent. 

Reassure Them

Many times students who are anxious or worried are looking to the adults around them for reassurance, and it is important that we offer it to them instead of brushing off their feelings. Reassurance goes right along with listening, but takes it a step further. Instead of just hearing them out, reassurance takes it a step further in letting the student know that their feeling will pass. 

This is a tricky one, because all at the same time you want students to know that you hear them and understand that their worries are real, but also that it will be okay. The best way I have found to do this is to commiserate a bit and tell the student about a time you were feeling the same way, and how the situation worked out. You can also say something like, "This feeling will pass," but be careful when using it to not gloss over your student's feelings. 

Role Play

Don't roll your eyes just yet. I am not talking about a full on production or anything, but I am talking about a little use of imagination. Try taking a little time to use some imagination to talk through situation. You might ask a student, "What are all the ways this could end?" or "When is another time that you felt this way, and how did it turn out?"

By asking questions like this you can lead students to think through the situation and arrive at their own conclusions. This can be a very telling exercise, because students will either talk themselves down, or reveal to you deeper concerns. 

Share Your Feelings

As someone who has struggled with anxiety for most of my life this is kind of my go to response when students are struggling as well. When I share my feelings and thoughts on anxiety with students it comes from a very real place, and I am very honest. I tell them about times when I thought the world was ending, truly, and then how it actually ended. 

This strategy only works when you are honest. If you are someone who is really not a worrier or have never experienced anxiety this one is not for you. Please do not try to fake it, because it can make the situation worse instead of better. 

Ideas for helping students work through their jitters and develop coping mechanisms for dealing with anxiety. Read About It

There are some GREAT books out there about characters that are worried or working through anxiety. It can really help a student out to know that there are others that feel the same way, and how their situations turned out.
Here are some of my favorites: (affiliate links)

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but they will get you started! 

Brainstorm Calming Strategies

Different strategies work for different people. Some need to get up and move, while others are best served by a few deep breaths. 

A few of my favorites include:
5 cleansing deep breaths
Jumping jacks
Tearing paper
Blowing on a feather
Reading a book
Making a list
Drawing a picture
Setting a time
A glitter jar

The most powerful part of this tool is the brainstorming process with the student themselves. They can come up with some pretty creative stuff! 

What Now?

The most important thing to remember is that worry or anxiety presents itself in different ways in each person. Some people may get quiet while others act out, and this is what makes anxiety tricky. Remember that anxiety and worry is often out of our students' control, and so are their emotions. 

Ask questions, involve your counselor and the student's parents, and never give up! 

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