Anxiety is a human emotion that everyone experiences at one time or another. You might feel anxiety when you need to face a problem at work or at school, when you are taking a test, when you need to make a big decision and/or when you step into a new situation. Maybe you become tense, maybe your thoughts are spiralling in your head, but after a while you calm down and you are able to face the situation the best you can. The discomfort that anxiety brings is considered normal and sometimes even beneficial and it might make you more aware of your surroundings and the situation you are in. But the discomfort that is considered normal and beneficial changes for someone with an anxiety disorder and this can lead to family, work, and social difficulties.

Researchers believe that anxiety disorders may be caused by problems in the functioning of the brain that regulates fear and other emotions. Anxiety by students can cause them to feel anxious most of the time, regardless of what is happening in their life. This can noticeably impact a student’s behaviour at school or at home, their ability to learn in class and to perform assigned tasks.

Students with anxiety may have fears that are not typical to their age groups, their constant fear has a negative impact on the student’s functioning and the student might have difficulties controlling their fear. In a school setting the student’s anxiety can lead to difficulties for the student to take information in and to process the information.

There are many types of anxiety, including:

Generalized Anxiety Disorder:

Students with generalized anxiety might seek reassurance from teachers and may have difficulty concentrating in class or even avoid going to school.

Panic Disorder

Students with a panic disorder may experience sweating, shortness of breath, chest pain, dizziness, and chills. They may also feel an extreme fear of losing control or going crazy.

Separation Anxiety Disorder

Students with separation anxiety might become very emotional when a loved one is leaving. They might refuse to participate in activities that involve separation, and they might not want to be alone.

Social Anxiety

Students with social anxiety might:

  • Avoid situations, especially situations that are new and unfamiliar.
  • Avoid other people
  • Fear that they are being judged
  • Avoid taking part in group discussions, group work or presentations
  • Have you ever experienced one (or more) of the types of anxiety or do you know someone who has experienced this?
Students who are experiencing anxiety may show the following behaviours:
  • Instinct to protect themselves when they feel overwhelmed or trapped. They could start yelling, pushing items off a desk
  • Students who ask repetitive questions. Students might feel there is still some information missing or the feeling that they cannot move on until they fully understand the topic or when they feel completely ready. This also reflects to seeking reassurance from the teacher.
  • Students who may act differently from day to day in class. Anxiety is influenced by many factors and these triggers can appear at different moments of the day which may influence the behaviour of the student.
  • The student often feels a high alert for danger, and they feel changes in their body. Some students might complain that they feel sick or ask if they can go home.
  • Students tend to avoid situations that make them uncomfortable, which can lead to avoidance of activities.

How You Can Help:

Anxiety can occur at different times on a day, in different situations and at different moments. Some days a student can feel less anxious in comparison with the day before.

There are materials that will help students with anxiety, to learn about their feelings and materials that the student can use as tools and to learn about when to use these tools when the anxiety arises.

Worrying Journals, Diaries or Worksheets

You can give students the space and time to write about their worries. You can provide them with questions that might help them express their feelings. For example:

  • What do you worry about?
  • How do you feel about this?
  • What do you think can help you when you feel worried?

You can also give students resources that help them understand what happens to our bodies when we feel anxious (e.g., sweating, etc.)

Relaxation exercises

Relaxation exercises are often given to people that have an anxiety disorder and that face anxiety attacks. For example: Mindfulness. Mindfulness is a type of mediation that focuses on being intensely aware of what you are sensing and feeling at the moment, without interpretation or judgement.

Mindfulness offers a lot of different ways. You will have exercises with guided imagery, you are given the chance to place a scenery in your head and the voice-over will guide you through this scenery, considering your senses.

There are also exercises that let you concentrate on your whole body and where you can feel a tension.

Many schools are already starting to focus on mindfulness in their classrooms.


Case Study 5: Alex

Alex does well on homework but rarely volunteers in class. They seem uneasy in small group activities and look down when the teacher walks around to check on students’ work. They blush when called on and sometimes stammer, even though the teacher knows they have the right answer. Yet, when the class website includes a discussion board, Alex writes lengthy posts.

How might you help Alex with their anxiety?


Depression is negatively affects how you feel, the way you think and how you act. Depression causes feelings of sadness and/or a loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed. (Felix Torres, October 2020).

Different depression symptoms can vary from:

  • Feeling sad or having a depressed mood
  • Changes in appetite
  • Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Loss of energy or increased fatigue
  • Feeling worthless or guilty
  • Difficulty thinking, concentrating, or making decisions

Several factors in depression are:

  • Biochemistry (differences in certain chemicals in the brain may contribute to symptoms of depression
  • Genetics (depression can run in families)
  • Personality
  • Environmental issues

Depression impacts an individual on a social, emotional, behavioural, and cognitive level. Students with depression might have difficulty completing tasks, they may feel confused, overwhelmed, and easily frustrated. Mood swings can make it hard for the students to pay attention and feelings of a low self-esteem can cause students to think they are worthless and that they will never succeed in, for example, learning new things.

Some signs and behaviours that students with depression show in the classroom are:
Cognitive Behavioural Physiological
Memory problems Sad mood Psychomotor agitation
Concentration problems Social withdrawal Somatic complaints (relating to body)
Attention problems Does not participate in usual or social activities Poor appetite or overeating
Negative view of self, world, and future Decreased work or school performance Insomnia (sleep disorder)
Difficulty making decisions Appears detached from others Low energy level
Feels loss of control Irritability Fatigue (extreme tiredness)
Strategies that can help a student with depression
  • Get to know the students early in the year – this way you can interact with students individually and learn about their interests and personality.
  • Be consistent with communication and feedback, including both strengths and difficulties and improvements.
  • Encourage students while they are participating in individual, social and group activities, and situations.
  • Provide students with support when they might be withdrawing – taking time to explain the task again, provide and alternative activity.

Even though students might be withdrawing or having a tough time to gather information and apply their knowledge, they also want to succeed in activities, and they are seeking the guidance of others.

Anxiety and depression can occur at a lot of different ages and it can last for a long time. I hope that, by reading this chapter, you have gained a deeper insight in anxiety and depression, their symptoms and the impact it can have on a person’s life including the cognitive, behavioural and physiological aspects. Anxiety and depression can be treated, but it can take a long time for someone to open up, talk freely about their symptoms and become aware of the situation and how it can be treated. With many strategies and resources, you can help a student become more comfortable and open about their anxiety and depression and guide the student along the way to help him or her learn about their feelings and showing them their worth by giving them your encouragement.



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Inclusive Perspectives in Primary Education Copyright © 2021 by room305 and Inclusive Education Class 2020-2021 is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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