Anxiety & Stress: Learn the Signs & Ways to Help
Working with students who learn differently, the article on Anxiety & Stress from Understood.com prompted further investigation. Students with learning challenges are more likely to experience negative thoughts and maybe even fear, stress or anxiety. It is something that needs to be considered by parents and educators; possible strategies should be considered in any support plan.
Lifeline describes stress as “the body’s way of responding to demand or pressures. It can be caused by both good and bad experiences. In many cases stress is a healthy reaction. It helps us cope with life’s challenges. However, too much stress, or prolonged stress can affect our physical and mental health.”
“Anxiety is the excessive, uncontrollable and often irrational anticipation of future threats,” according to Lifeline.
This suggests that moderate stress is good, but anxiety can be a reaction to too much stress. It can be very stressful when a student is not coping in class, especially if this is due to learning differences. If the stress is ongoing and not simply due to occasional testing, it can lead to chronic stress. Chronic stress can develop into anxiety where the student becomes anxious at the real or perceived future stress and this is out of proportion to the stressor.
In order to prevent this spiralling out of control, the student needs perspective to balance what he can do with what is stressful. Expectations should also be realistic.
Signs of anxiety can be physical, emotional and/or behavioural. When it impacts on a student’s day to day functioning, intervention is necessary. Physically, the impact can affect sleep, appetite; the child may complain of head or stomach aches. Emotional signs may include a lot of crying, emotional outbursts and fear of something that may occur at some time into the future. Anxiety can also manifest with behavioural changes such as withdrawal, school refusal or meltdowns.
While it is not easy or straightforward, these strategies may be considered:
- Name the source of stress. Helping the student understand what is causing stress, can help to deal with it. If this is out of the student’s control, a parent or teacher can build strategies into a support plan.
- Source evidence-based interventions to match the student’s learning style. Everyone feels better knowing they have help and understanding.
- Examine homework to check it is realistic, time appropriate and scaffolded.
- Manage new situations by making them as familiar as possible – provide opportunities to explore.
- Celebrate successes. Talk in terms of personal bests and keep a folder of achievements to look back on.
- Create positive mantras to overshadow negative talk. “My best is good enough, ” is better than “I can’t”.
- Routine is very stabilising.
- Exercise on a regular basis.
- Find activities he or she is good at. This may be art, sport, music or other – either found at school or a club.
- Set reasonable and achievable goals based on the child’s age and capability.
- Consider outside help which may present in different forms from a specialist who has relevant experience and training.
Mental health is the most important aspect to learning. Negatively, it can debilitate progress. Positively, it can allow someone to maximise potential. Identify stressors and employ strategies to mitigate – this becomes even more powerful if the student develops and owns the strategies.
By Gail Northcoate
B.A. H. Dip Ed. D.S.E. Dip Couns.
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