A reassuring hand on a jeans-clad leg

5 things to say to students suffering from anxiety

If we really want to support our students’ social and emotional health, we must learn about their fears, struggles, and idiosyncrasies

2. “What do you think might be going on for you right now?
Clinical anxiety isn’t a feeling that comes on because of one specific, identifiable reason. Anxiety is panic—discomfort that sets in out of nowhere. People with anxiety often have to think deeply about why they’re feeling anxious. Asking a question like this helps the student initiate this thought process. Additionally, it initiates an attempt at helping the student regain control over the situation.

3. “What do you need from me?
No one likes to be told what to do, but everyone appreciates and is eased by an offer of help or assistance. Expect that the student will answer with “I don’t know” or “Nothing,” but don’t read into it. He is not being unappreciative. Ultimately, what he really needs from you is exactly what you are doing.

4. “Let’s think about what we can do in the next 15 minutes to help get you through this.”
When a student is suffering from anxiety, she is overwhelmed and unable to create simple, clear, and manageable goals. The more overwhelmed she gets, the more avoidant she becomes. Empowering students to chunk up the day or the things they have to do will create clear, attainable goals and help them regain control of their disease. Again, you are not telling them what to do (relax, breathe, don’t worry)—you are asking them to give input and establish tangible goals.

5. “I’m here for you.”
It’s simple. It’s not dismissive. Students with anxiety feel all alone, like they are different and “not normal.” Simply being told that someone is there for them has the power of a thousand suns.

Three out of the five statements above are questions. If we really want to help our students and support their social and emotional health, we must learn about each one’s fears, struggles, and idiosyncrasies. A willingness to ask questions and be vulnerable, to admit you don’t know what the student is feeling or why, shows you are humble and human. Humility is a quality that makes you relatable to students and that’s what they need.

Related: 4 apps for students’ personal growth and mental health

Removing the stigma starts with educators learning about anxiety. Doing this will decrease the pressure the students are putting on themselves to be okay. I challenge all readers to use these strategies and ask the students the questions; let them lead the intervention. Inquire; don’t judge. You won’t just help your students, you’ll help yourself see mental health from the same lens as you do a physical disease.


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