Updated: Jun 22
Anxiety is something that impacts many of us at some point in our lives. It’s something that is normal to a point, but when it escalates, it can have a huge impact in your life (and not in a good way). I developed an anxiety disorder in my latter school years and it made life very difficult. Despite this, I managed to finish school and even went on to university, completed it and ended up with a first class degree.
Along the way, I learnt various ways to help cope with my anxiety, but as school is a specific type of environment, I thought I’d share some of the tips and tricks I learnt along the way.
1. Speak to your head of year or headteacher
This was the most important step for me. Once they understand what you are struggling with, they can help put measures into place so that you can continue your education. I was lucky to have understanding teachers, but I believe most would be like that. It’d be good to speak to them with a parent present.
Explain to them what you are struggling with specifically and if you have ideas of what would help, tell them. It would also be good if you have a doctor’s note of some sort to confirm your struggles with anxiety.
2. Sit close to a door
When in class, I would always try to sit close to an exit. If I felt trapped, my anxiety would be unbearable. If I knew that I could be out of the classroom within a couple of seconds, the anxiety would usually be manageable. I always felt better when I had an escape plan and sitting next to a door was a part of that.
I would also try to leave the door open, but most teachers aren’t keen on that.
3. Ask teachers for lesson plans and materials to work on at home
When I first started struggling with anxiety in school, I ended up missing a lot of lessons. As the school knew what was going on, the teachers would provide me with the material I needed to catch up.
I would also communicate with my teachers via email. Often I couldn’t go in so this was the next best thing.
4. Sipping water
In classes at university, sipping a drink would often help me manage my anxiety. As you can’t breathe and drink at the same time, it helps regulate your breathing and stop you hyperventilating.
Having a water bottle would also serve as a distraction. I would have it to hold onto and to trace the patterns if I needed to. Teachers will allow you to have a bottle of water with you in most instances.
5. Taking ‘toilet’ breaks
This was something that I used as a coping method early on. If you are struggling with anxiety and you need to get outside quickly, you can ask to be excused to go to the bathroom. This was how I used to get out of classes as teachers don’t question it. At university, I didn’t have to excuse myself and I had a letter from the doctor that would explain that I need to go in and out.
The only bad thing with taking ‘toilet’ breaks is that people may start to notice and think you’re having toilet problems. It’s alright though if you only need to get out once or twice in a session.
6. Speak to friends
Something that helped me cope in class was speaking to friends. It didn’t have to be an in depth conversation, just chatting. It would keep my mind busy and again, helped a bit with breathing. It took me away from my thoughts and into something trivial.
This isn’t a good idea if the teacher is talking as it can distract them. If you are quiet though and if they are aware of your situation, it may be tolerated.
7. Tense and release muscles
This is similar to progressive muscle relaxation but with less structure. You can make a fist, hold it and release it. When you relax the muscle, focus on the tingly feeling. That should induce a relaxation response from your body and therefore reduce anxiety. It’s also a good idea to give your shoulders a shrug. Often, when anxiety starts, we don’t realise how tense our body gets. By forcing the muscles to relax, it should help our mind relax.
A lot of people doodle anyway in class but it’s something that can help focus your mind. Many people do mindful colouring and artistic things. Bring paper with you into class and doodle when you feel anxious. It’s something that should help you relax and keep your mind focused on something else. Make sure the teacher is aware of why you may doodle beforehand so that they don’t get offended or take it away from you.
9. Listen to music (with teachers approval)
A piece of advice I received often was to listen to music through headphones. It can help take you away from your current situation mentally, and help you focus on relaxing. For me, it wasn’t that helpful in class when experiencing severe anxiety as I felt more vulnerable not being able to hear what was going on around me. However, when it was mild anxiety that I was experiencing, music would help me focus on what I was doing rather than on what was going on around me.
Music at 60bpm can help you relax.
10. Plan something fun for the afternoon
It’s important to fill your life with things you love. If you plan something nice for after school, that will give you something positive to focus on throughout the day and will help leave the day on a positive note. It doesn’t have to be something expensive, but it can be having a nice chocolatey treat, seeing friends or watching a film.
Hopefully some of these tips will help you deal with anxiety during school so that you can enjoy it as much as possible and get through each day. Check out the self-help guide for anxiety in education: www.zortex.co.uk/shop
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