We know there seems to be a higher rate of anxiety and panic disorders then there was just a decade ago. Whether that is true, or whether it is just being diagnosed more is uncertain to me. Either way, anxiety seems to the driving force for student absenteeism. I currently have a few students who leave class and wander the hallways looking for places to hide, hoping the teacher forgets they are gone so they do not have to go back to class. Often times those students end up at my door. Sometime they are crying, shaking, trying to get out of the school, making excuses to leave, etc. I have built a habit of being very kind at first when a new student comes in who seems to be anxious. I let them talk, pace, draw or whatever they need to do to calm down for the time being. I have light hearted questions about family, friends, activities, favorite anything, whatever will keep them in my office and not wandering the halls again. I am usually pretty successful in this area and students start to come back to see me willingly.
For me, when students come to me because they want to, the real work begins. I must now do the careful dance of keeping up with the students’ feels, fears, ideas and thoughts without stepping on their toes. I want them to believe that I truly get it because I do. I live around anxiety everyday, at home with my husband and son and at work with staff and students. Working with my own loved ones’ anxiety disorder has helped me to see how it affects people and as a result I think it has made me a “you have to be cruel to be kind” kind of person. I go through a process where students are given tools to make it through and they need to learn them because I will not always be there for them, and sometimes I send them back to class after reminding them of all the resources they have at their disposable (just not me). I request that parents take their kids to school even on the hardest days. I ask teachers to not let my students out of class unless necessary and I send students back to class as soon as possible, whenever possible. I get strange looks from parents and staff but I tell them, “If you want this to get better sometimes they need to do the things that cause anxiety”. A person who is afraid of spiders will not be able to avoid them for the rest of their lives and those with school anxiety cannot avoid school either. They need to be in that moment and experience the uncomfortable, heart pounding moments when anxiety sets in. Feeling and surviving those emotions is part of the battle. Soon those feelings start to diminish and the more you face it and think and talk about it, the easier it gets. It may not ever go away in its entirety but you can learn how to deal with it day by day, minute by minute, hour by hour.
*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA