Mental health is more than a buzzword in the world of education. Since Covid, educational professionals have become increasingly aware of the ramifications of current events. Mental health professionals everywhere have expressed concern about the growing need to meet students with anxiety with the proper tools to help them with their anxiety disorders.

Mental Health and Education

I want to point out that these statistics only represent those medically diagnosed with these disorders. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), over 4.4 million children between 3 and 17 have been medically diagnosed with anxiety disorder; another almost 2 million have depression. Further, disorders such as anxiety, depression, ADD, ADHD, and Oppositional Defiance Disorder (ODD) account for over six million American children.

The CDC calculated these numbers between 2007 and 2014 (pre-pandemic). Why give all these numbers? Since these years and the Covid pandemic, we have seen an extreme rise in these types of disorders. Because we see these students every day, this is now not something that should be dealt with reactively. We must address these issues proactively in the classroom.

10 Ways to Help Student Anxiety

Lucky for us teachers, because generalized anxiety disorder is so common in our society, there is a ton of mental health expertise to help us in the classroom. Whether you’re teaching high school students or kindergarten babes, all suggestions on this list will help. Also, be sure to have a set of classroom expectations for these various tools.

1. Entire Class Breathing Exercise

Whether you have just a handful of anxious students or a whole class with test anxiety, breathing exercises are proven to reduce those anxiety symptoms. Deep breathing that is focused is a great technique to teach younger students as a method of being calm. For example, taking slow, steady breaths in, holding for five seconds, and slow and steady out. Even your smartwatch tells you when it is time to breathe.

2. Fidgets for Anxious Kids

Classroom fidgets are fantastic tools to have present in the school environment. Any student experiencing anxiety can frequently be distracted by other things. For example, if you notice a child feels anxious, you can give them a fidget toy or sensory item for emotional support. These welcome distractions will help that excessive worry fade into the background.

3. Have a Calm Down Corner

Having a calm-down corner in your classroom setup is a fantastic way to let all your students know that it is ok for them to feel anxious or stressed and that you have a place for them. This may be an oversized recliner or couch with a lamp and music for older students. In the case of more minor children, this may be a bean bag chair and a self-calming object, like a stuffed animal or weighted blanket.

4. Allow School Counselor Talks

Instead of allowing a student to shut down completely, allow them that they can visit the counselor. Sometimes, young people are more private and do not want to deal with their anxiety attacks in class. Allow your anxious student a moment to compose themselves and talk to the school counselor or trusted teacher outside of the classroom.

5. Teach Coping Strategies

Be the teacher that teaches their students how to deal with feeling anxious in any situation. All students with anxiety or without need to learn ways to deal with life’s stressful situations. Whether they deal with performance anxiety (i.e., upcoming tests) or parents and family situations, kids need these tools for life.

6. Take Brain Breaks

This suggestion isn’t just for one student, but rather, all your students. Teachers and students alike need brain breaks! Allowing kids to learn early that it is ok to let their minds rest is a lesson in self-care.

7. Talk About What Is Next

While there are many anxiety-reducing techniques available, I have found that they reduce anxiety in the classroom by giving your students advance notice on classwork, lessons, and activities. This method is beneficial in special education inclusion classrooms. Telling your students what to expect and when can help relieve the element of the unknown. I also have found it helpful to notify my students of planned substitute teachers.

8. Be Fair, Not Equal

I have, over the years, gotten a bit of pushback on this thought process; however, I stand firm with it. Fair does not mean equal. If you have a student with separation anxiety, you may provide them with something they need (i.e., a phone call to mom or a self-soothing item). However, not all kids NEED this type of intervention. I am equal in that every child will receive what they need, but not all children will receive the same things.

9. Get Moving

Going outside or participating in athletic activities increases serotonin levels in the brain, decreasing severe anxiety and increasing that good mood. Allow your kids to get outside, move around, play a game, and have fun.

10. Remind Students to Stay Healthy

Much student anxiety can be helped simply by consuming healthy foods that provide steady energy throughout the day. I’ve noticed that many of my high school students who already suffer from managing anxiety come into class with energy drinks, sugar-filled sodas and candies, and spicy chips. All this junk food is consumed before 10 am only to provide them with the jitters and a two o’clock crash.

Final Thoughts on Helping Anxious Students

The academic effects of student anxiety can be detrimental to a child’s education. Having these feelings at some point in life is unavoidable. Helping students realize that there are strategies that they can do to overcome those sometimes debilitating feelings is highly valuable. Educating not just the child but also parents on ways to relieve those symptoms of anxiety helps provide the same home and school space.

Lastly, be sure to share these thoughts and ideas with other teachers that may benefit from using them in their own classrooms! Check out our other articles that deal with providing mental health the classroom.