Anxiety is a pervasive mental health crisis. In fact, one in five students will be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. Considering the fact that anxiety disorders are largely under-reported, it’s clear that teachers and parents cannot afford to overlook the threat of overwhelming fear, stress, and anxiety.
There are many aspects of modern life that provoke such powerful emotions in our students: from academic stress to social pressure, students must face a gauntlet of anxiety-inducing challenges as part of their day-to-day lives.
Anxiety is a part of life, of course, and with the proper support, many students are able to navigate these challenges. Without proper coping mechanisms, however, students can easily become overwhelmed. They may refuse to go to school or report to the nurse with frequent stomachaches or headaches. They may appear to be inattentive or oppositional. If left untreated, anxiety disorders can persist into adulthood, undermining your students’ chances for happy and healthy lives.
So, what can we do to help our students?
We are big fans of the work of Donna Pincus, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Boston University and Director of the Child and Adolescent Fear and Anxiety Treatment Program at the Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders at Boston University. Dr. Pincus has focused her clinical research and career on the development of new treatments for child and adolescent anxiety disorders.
She recommends helping students understand the role that anxiety plays in their lives. Students need to be able to examine their anxious thoughts and understand how these thoughts may be contributing to the sense of being overwhelmed. Students also need to be able to identify and accept the physical sensations that accompany anxiety, perhaps using mindfulness techniques. Doing this work to help students understand and accept their emotions and sensations is crucial to helping students identify and change the avoidant behaviors that prevent them from coping.
Dr. Pincus has so much more to teach us. We encourage you to check out her work, or, come and hear her present at the 32nd Annual Learning Differences Conference. Her talk is titled, “Evidence-based strategies for helping youth overcome fear, stress, and anxiety in school settings.” Hope to see you there!
- Michael Greschler, M.Ed., SMARTS Director