7 resources to help educators better understand anxiety

Mental illness is omnipresent in schools today, but it isn’t as well understood or managed as districts would hope. An October 2018 Education Week article stated that, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 32 percent of adolescents have an anxiety disorder. This means that in a classroom of 24, eight students will suffer from clinical anxiety.

The difference between nervousness and anxiety

Often confused with nervousness, anxiety is believed to be a circumstantial, temporary feeling of worry that with coaching, breathing, and self-talk can be easily overcome. Unfortunately, although some iterations of anxiety present in such a fashion, most are generalized, overwhelming, and debilitating. Anxiety has triggers, which students can choose to work to avoid with strategies and support, but the existence of anxiety is not a choice.

Anxiety is a physiological imbalance in the brain, one that pumps too much serotonin through the nervous system. Although many of the things that provoke a student’s anxiety can be controlled, the onset of panic that comes from provocation cannot be regulated without professional interventions, medications, therapy, and/or counseling.…Read More

Overcoming your own anxiety to become an effective K-12 leader

Leadership skills require people to look inward and find self-confidence that will not only guide them toward successes but focus them through failures—an inevitable part of all leadership positions.

Educational leadership is a career wrought with deep stress, pressure, and expectations. It’s a challenge for the healthiest and most experienced of administrators. But in the 21st century, as the stigma of mental illness begins to fade and we see the incidents of illness among our students rise, so too do the rates of illness among ourselves and our staff.

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America estimates that 40 million adults in the United States over the age of 18, or just over 18 percent of the population, are suffering from a clinical anxiety disorder. With anxiety being so common for so many people, we can no longer support educational leaders with general lists of characteristics and skills necessary for success. Rather we must angle our guidelines in a direction that considers the personal challenges of our 21st-century leaders in the face of an increasingly more anxiety-inducing profession.…Read More

How can educators support the parents of students with anxiety?

As educators struggle to understand anxiety and its implications for student success in schools, so too do the parents of these students. Whether it’s failing to complete work at home, not turning in assignments, or avoiding school altogether, students with anxiety display an affect often confused with disinterest and complacency. Anxiety, however, couldn’t be more different than the conclusions we often make about those students diagnosed. Anxiety is an illness associated with general fear and worry; it is not nervousness and it most certainly is not complacency.

For students with anxiety, the fear of the unknown, of potential judgement, and/or of failure is so intense that the solution is often to pull the pendulum as far back in the opposite direction as possible. Because there is so much an anxiety sufferer cannot control, he/she tries to control anything possible: the neatness of his/her notes, the direction of a conversation, his/her score on an English test. If perfection is not a possibility, then a student with anxiety doesn’t see the risk as worth taking. The anxiety that comes from messy notes, getting a wrong answer on a homework assignment, or not getting a 100 on a quiz is so debilitating that the next best option is to disengage.

The imprecision of labels

We have a tendency to identify ourselves with an “all or nothing” mentality. We are either smart or stupid, social or antisocial, funny or boring, athletic or uncoordinated. It’s very rare for us to pare down our abilities or inabilities with specificity. I’ve never heard an educator or parent describe a student in the top 5 percent as anything other than smart, but the story of that student goes much deeper. Perhaps math and science came easy; the time spent on those subjects was significantly less than his or her peers in the top half of the class. However, for the ease with which math and science came to him/her, English and history did not. The student had a tutor and put in countless hours of studying. Do we label this student as “stupid” or smart? We use labels on individual outcomes, rather than journeys. A student in the top 5 percent is smart no matter how he/she got there. Therefore, a student who avoids school is disinterested and complacent.…Read More

5 things to avoid saying to students suffering from anxiety

[Editor’s note: Don’t miss our companion piece, “5 things to say to students suffering from anxiety.”]

Currently, schools are being inundated with cases of anxiety in young adults. Although the dramatic increase in attention being paid to the illness has been beneficial to those suffering, the difficulty lies in the fact that everyone thinks they understand anxiety and how to overcome it.

As a public high school administrator, I lead interventions for students in poor academic standing. Although many students have logistical circumstances keeping them from being successful—homelessness, employment, learning disabilities, etc.—many of them are school avoidant because of anxiety that is, quite frankly, debilitating.…Read More