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School anxiety: Mental Health Awareness Week

It is not uncommon for children to have anxieties about starting a new school or returning to school after a break. So it’s no surprise, according to Dr Rachel James, that so many have struggled with school anxiety following the covid-19 pandemic and end of lockdown.

Rachel is the Clinical Services Director at the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust.

“The way in which lockdown impacted young people engaging in activities, one of which is school, people’s worlds became so much smaller and for some people that was helpful and they felt much happier and were able to adapt with being at home and not needing to go to school. But for many young people what it took them out of was a world of quite significant social interaction, with peers, with teachers and being in large group situations; also learning in situations where there’s lots of noise going on in the background and other children and young people, being very busy in those situations which can actually feel quite overwhelming. In some ways it’s no surprise that many young people really struggled with the return to school,” she said.

While there is little data on school anxiety and attendance, a study of over 19,000 young people between the ages of 8 to 18, found that a third worried about schoolwork and attending lessons, following the end of lockdown.

“For many young children who didn’t have opportunities to go to drop-in or the local park and play on climbing frames, their worlds were so different. Going back to school was a huge shock for people,” added Rachel.

How to manage school related anxiety

There are several ways in which young people with school anxiety may show it, including:

  • Not wanting to get ready for the day
  • Making excuses for why they can’t go
  • Not sleeping well
  • Not doing homework
  • Worrying about seemingly small issues like not having the right equipment.

Read more: Signs a young person might be anxious about school

There are some really simply things we can do to help manage anxiety about going to school.

Rachel said: “What we know is in managing anxiety an easier way is to break down tasks that feel huge or overwhelming into smaller tasks, so you can see you can take one small step and move on from that.”

Tips from Rachel

  • Plan ahead: Talk to the school, teachers and people important to the young person about where and when they can go to share their worries with a trusted adult.
  • If anxiety is about performance, explore the best ways to get additional support, for instance, extra lessons and support groups.
  • Find out the cause of the anxiety, to create a suitable plan.

Read more: Helpful tips for coping with school anxiety