School Anxiety: What Parents Can Do to Help

Does your teen have school anxiety? Does he or she complain of stomachaches, headaches, or symptoms like sweaty palms, a racing heart, or breathlessness on school days? There are many reasons why a teenager might feel anxious about going to school. It’s important to address these symptoms of anxiety and to take steps to improve the situation. Left unchecked, school anxiety could lead to a generalized anxiety disorder, panic attacks, or depression. Read on to find out what you can do to help your teen alleviate his or her school anxiety.

Panic Attacks at School

If your teen suffers from panic attacks, having one such attack while at school can cause a lot of anxiety. The way that panic attacks work is that the body goes into fight-or-flight mode for no reason. Just as you might react when faced with danger (such as a car accident or seeing a dangerous wild animal on your porch), someone having a panic attack gets flooded with cortisol and adrenaline. The symptoms of a panic attack include the following:

  • racing heartbeat
  • sweating
  • feeling out of breath
  • a sense of doom

While these symptoms can be very helpful when you need to outrun a bear or stay calm and coherent while waiting for paramedics to arrive following a car accident, they are not helpful or necessary while doing mundane things, like going to school or going for a walk. If your teen has had one panic attack at school, he or she is likely anxious about having another one. They’re also probably worried about embarrassing themselves. This one event can lead to weeks or months of anxiety.

Social Anxiety

While the main focus school is supposed to be academics, another big part of the high school experience is socializing. Teens socialize in classes, in between classes, during lunch, and during extracurricular activities. They also need to be able to talk to adults, including teachers, the administrative staff, and coaches. Many teens interact with and date members of the opposite sex. All of this can be extremely overwhelming for a teen who has social anxiety.

Your teen might have had social anxiety as a child, or it might be new now. It might start with one embarrassing or traumatic experience, or it could develop slowly over time. Bullying could be a cause. Your teen might begin dreading going to school because he or she thinks they’re going to do or say something stupid or inappropriate. They might have physical symptoms like stomachaches or headaches. You might see grades plummet, and your teen might have trouble making friends.

When School Itself Is the Cause

In some cases, school anxiety has to do with the academic work itself. Your teen might put a lot of pressure on him- or herself (or might be feeling pressure from you or the teachers at school) to do better and achieve excellence. For example, if your child needs to get good grades in order to get scholarships for university, this can cause stress. Or maybe his or her guidance counselor has urged them to take AP or honors classes and the coursework is too difficult.

Other times, school is a cause simply because it adds to an already too-high load. If your teen is working a part-time job, has a lot of chores at home, volunteers in the community, and is a member of a sports team, it’s reasonable that school might just seem too overwhelming.

Exploring Lifestyle Changes

In some cases, making simple lifestyle changes can help your teen reduce or better cope with his or her school anxiety. For example, the overwhelmed teen might need to drop down to regular classes instead of taking several Advanced Placement courses. Or maybe bullying needs to be addressed. Other lifestyle changes which can help a teen reduce his or her school anxiety include:

Talk to your teenager about what exactly is bothering them, if they can articulate it. You might be able to help with healthy-living suggestions. You could look for progressive relaxation audio files or some meditation videos that might help. You could also encourage your teen to talk to his or her friends about mild school anxiety; they might be able to reassure them that they often feel the same way.

Seeking Professional Help for School Anxiety

If your teen is experiencing physical symptoms of school anxiety regularly, however, it’s likely that professional help will be needed. It’s important to get a grasp on anxiety as soon as you can; the sooner your teen can learn how to cope with and minimize anxiety, the easier it will be for him or her to cope with the stresses of adulthood. Getting school anxiety under control can also improve your teen’s grades and general sense of well-being. Learning how to deal with social anxiety will be a skill that will serve your teen for a lifetime.

The first place you should go is to your child’s physician. He or she can run blood tests to see if your teen has a physical condition that is causing symptoms of anxiety. Assuming all of that comes back normal, you can ask for a referral to a counselor. Your teen might do well with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or other types of psychotherapy. In some cases, medication might be recommended. Work with the mental health care provider to find the best solutions for your teenager.

Dealing with anxiety is hard on adults, and it can be even harder on teens. With all of the stress piled on teens today, it’s likely that most adolescents could make good use of relaxation techniques and coping strategies. If your teen is dealing with anxiety over going to school, work with him or her to alleviate symptoms. Try to keep the lines of communication open so you can recognize the signs that your teen is having anxiety and so he or she will feel comfortable talking to you about it. Anxiety is very treatable, and there’s no need for your teen to suffer. Make an appointment with his or her doctor today if you have concerns.