In working in schools over the past few weeks, it is apparent that pupils are experiencing high levels of anxiety which are affecting their attitude and performance at school. Most of these students cite the heavy workload and family stresses as the lead factors in their anxiety. Their emotions seem to quickly run high and behaviour appears erratic at times.
Whilst in a school, I overheard students talking to each other in a more relaxed and informal environment who were discussing their worries with each other, but they were not able to offer each other any guidance. They seem instead to snowball the anxiety as a result of their conversation, with each one out-doing the other in respect of how bad they were feeling.
Most people have a sense of fear or anxiety when important things are happening, such as taking exams. This is a problem when they remain in that anxious mindset outside of that stressful scenario or when it gets in the way of normal thinking and functioning. It means that overall, they experience life as being harder than it needs to be. The anxiety begins to reduce their energy levels, causing concentration difficulties and disrupting their social interactions.
As a result of offering our support, the students in the school where I was based have now been equipped with processes that they can use to manage their anxiety. This has helped the tension they felt simmer down and disperse. In time, it will also have a effect on their overall attitude and mental approach, causing them to see things in more positive ways. This means there will be an impact for those who do not attend the sessions as the interactions they have with those who did attend, will become less strained and the atmosphere will be calmer.
The long term health implications of not learning to manage anxiety can become chronic in later life. Not only will others perceive their attitude as negative, reducing their opportunity for positive engagement with others, but their expressed anticipation of the worst case scenario will always come to pass because this is where their focus is.
Anxiety creates a great deal of stress hormones in the body. Cortisol (a hormone released in times of anxiety) suppresses the immune system making pupils more prone to illness and other disease later in life. By teaching them how to manage anxiety they will ultimately become healthier.
We cannot expect more from young people in respect of their learning and development without first addressing this issue. However it would be impossible to address all of the ingredients that are contributing to their anxiety as each of them has a differing set of circumstances and their own unique way of reacting. This is why it is important to find a solution for the anxiety as we cannot fix all of their individual problems.
The students will be able to bond in a positive way, talking about their successes and the good things they are anticipating instead of chewing over all of their stresses and what else they have to worry about. This will cause them to appear different in their interactions outside of school too with their families, friends and in the communities they live in.
By Gemma Bailey