For most people, going to school is probably a mild annoyance getting in the way of having fun or a place to go to see your friends, but for children living with anxiety, going to school can be a nightmare.
Between thoughts that I’m never good enough, being judged by everyone and keeping up with homework, revision, lessons, and socializing, so much brain power goes into appearing “normal” that there is little room for anything else.
One in four people lives with a mental illness. Teachers can play an important part in minimizing the symptoms of anxiety:
Offer an ear or even an empty office. Knowing that they have someone they can go to if feeling anxious makes a massive difference to children with anxiety. It helps to manage the anxieties and knowing that a teacher or therapist will listen to how they are feeling, and lifts a weight off their shoulders. It provides an escape and a place to hide when they need to. It helps to get away from the watching eyes of others and gives them the headspace needed to be able to talk themselves back to reality.
Be flexible. Children suffering from anxiety are not always able to make deadlines. Sometimes, they plan to do something but are thrown off. This might be because they are too exhausted to process thoughts, or because, in the time allocated to a particular piece of work, they ended up panicking. Knowing that they will be able to hand in a piece of work a couple of days late if necessary, reduces anxiety so much that even just knowing they have the opportunity to be late, can help to get work in on time. A flexible deadline takes away so much pressure.
School is hard. Mental illness is hard. Put the two together and it’s like adding gasoline to a fire – too much and it will explode. If you’re a teacher, please take the wellbeing of your students into account before laying on the pressure. By being there for your students, you might just save a life.
If you’re a student, hold on. Be kind to yourself and take a day off if you need to. Find that teacher (or another adult) that you can open up to and who can help reduce some of your anxiety. There are people out there who want to hear your voice, you just have to find them. You might not be where you want to be, and you might not end up where you expected to be, but you’ll end up where you were meant to be. It’s okay to not feel okay, but it will be okay in the end.