It can sometimes seem that school work and stress go hand in hand. Homework assignments can have a nasty habit of piling up when neglected for too long, big projects can become overwhelming if partners do not do their share and exams can foster feelings of panic when accumulated knowledge is on a timer. Whether it is grade school, high school or when getting one’s professional degree, getting good grades is a consistent effort that can stress and strain a person’s mind. Stress is more accurately defined as anxiety or the anticipation and avoidance of future threats, which in this case are tests and bad grades.
While school systems attempt to encourage a healthy level of stress that will drive students to accomplish their assignments and goals effectively, some students do not respond to the pressure so well. In these circumstances, anxiety can exceed normal levels of intensity and duration and become a completely incapacitating disorder. Anxiety disorders are usually measured by continuous episodes or a prolonged period lasting up to six months or more, which can perfectly align with a semester or school year workload.
According to a national survey by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMN), eight percent of adolescents between the ages of 13 and 18 are diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. Childhood and adolescence is the core risk phase for the development of symptoms and syndromes of anxiety that may range from transient mild symptoms to full-blown anxiety disorders. Students may suffer from social phobias that will affect their required participation in group projects or cause separation anxiety disorder, preventing younger students from wanting to go to school because they prefer to stay with their parents. There are also a few school specific disorders that can be often overlooked.
A fairly common form of school anxiety is related to tests and exams, officially called test anxiety. The condition is characterized by a failure to perform on exams specifically, either due to a fear of failure, a history of bad test performance or insufficient preparation for tests. Symptoms can appear anywhere during the study process, especially if it is done last minute, and during the exam itself. Severe repercussions such as panic attacks can even occur and debilitate a student to the point of danger. For this kind of condition, studying an appropriate amount of time before test dates and practicing good testing strategies along the way can be helpful. This also includes getting a healthy amount of sleep and rest each day, which many students neglect in later years of school.
For those between the ages of five and 11 or during transitions to middle and high school, school refusal can develop in two to five percent of children. As the name implies, school refusal is a disorder where a child refuses to attend school on a regular basis. While children with this condition may complain of physical symptoms shortly before going to school or during class in order to see a nurse, symptoms disappear almost instantly after being sent home. While dishonesty may be a more direct explanation, the refusal has been commonly linked to an underlying factor, such as fear that something will happen to a parent while in school, fear that the student won’t do well in school or fear of another student. Particular life events of stress or trauma can also contribute to this disorder.
If an adult or child struggles at school academically or socially, the first step is to establish contact with a teacher, principal or counselor about any concerns. While students may know themselves well, teachers and other qualified staff oversee and interact with students every day and can spot disruptive behavior. They may even be able to offer insight in cases they have seen before. Another reason to inform school staff is that they may not be aware that the maladaptive behaviors they observe are caused by an anxiety disorder. If a student with an anxiety disorder is consequently punished for their symptoms, the incident can have collateral effects on his or her psychological state and overall attitude about the condition. In order to avoid these damaging possibilities, it is crucial to establish open communication with mentors and experienced professionals about how they can help.
Unfortunately, current statistics show that adolescents with more severe anxiety disorders are underserved, with only 18 percent receiving mental health care. For serious conditions at younger ages, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) states the most important thing a parent can do is obtain a comprehensive evaluation from a mental health professional for additional help. If you or a loved one is suffering from an anxiety-related condition, you can call Anxiety Treatment Centers of California at 855-972-9459 for help.