school anxiety in teenagers

School Anxiety in Teenagers: Causes, Symptoms, and How to Deal With It

Key Takeaways:

  • Teenagers face many changes and challenges in school that may lead to anxiety.
  • Common causes of school anxiety in teens include bullies, academic performance, and rejection from peers.
  • There are various ways to address school anxiety, including the help of a professional.

Being a teenager has always been difficult, but more so in today’s world. The pace at which technology, social trends, and educational demands move can be overwhelming. School is another challenging environment, where teens are faced with changes in friends, romantic relationships, assignments, and extracurricular activities.

Sometimes these challenges can cause feelings of school anxiety in teenagers. If your teen seems to always dread school despite constant reassurance, then figuring out if they have school anxiety is an important first step.

School Anxiety in Teenagers

Many teenagers experience anxiety when it comes to attending school, and it’s usually to do with social or academic concerns. Some anxiety is normal as teenagers anticipate the changes that every school year brings.

However, when anxiety becomes more pronounced, some teens may start feeling overwhelmed or intimidated by the events happening at school. It may lead to them dreading attending school or even a refusal to go at all. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 2 to 5% of kids and teens experience this school-related anxiety [*].

Given this, it is crucial to learn about the causes and symptoms of school anxiety in teens.

Common Causes of School Anxiety in Teenagers

To help your teen with school anxiety, it is important to learn about the common causes. These may include but are not limited to the following:

  • Dealing with a bully
  • Difficulty understanding a subject or failing
  • Rejection from peers
  • Family problems or conflicts at home
  • Physical illness
  • Existing anxiety or other psychological disorders

Common Symptoms of School Anxiety in Teenagers

Now that you know the causes that may result in a teenager too anxious to go to school, here are some symptoms to keep an eye out for:

  • Losing interest in activities they usually enjoy
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Withdrawing from social interactions
  • Constant fatigue and trouble sleeping at night
  • Loss of appetite
  • Mood swings
  • Dip in performance at school
  • Frequent physical ailments (ex: headaches, stomachaches, nausea, etc.)
  • Avoidant behavior
  • Expressing feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
  • Using alcohol or drugs to deal with anxious feelings

If your teen is showing a few of these symptoms, then it might be good to try an anxious thoughts breakdown worksheet to find out more about what they are feeling.

How to Help Your Teen with School-Related Anxiety

Teens need plenty of support when dealing with school-related anxiety. Here are some ways that you can help to lessen their symptoms and make the experience of going to school a bit less distressing:

Talk to your teen

Anxiety in high school is tough, so hearing your teen out is a must. Let them come to you to discuss their emotional triggers and sources of anxiety. This will help you understand them better so you can accurately address their needs. Practice coping statements for anxiety with them during your discussions so they feel more equipped to deal with an anxious situation when it arises.

Establish a support system

Your teen’s anxiety may be due to a particular class, facing a bully, or not being accepted by their peers. Establishing a good support system at home and at school can help them tremendously. Aside from being a safe space for your teen to come home to, talk to who they trust the most, whether it’s a particular teacher, the school counselor, or a friend. These supportive individuals can ensure your teen feels safe and less anxious at school.

Act as role models

Anxiety can make teenagers feel very stressed. Knowing how to deal with that stress is crucial to managing anxiety. Parents can help their teens by serving as role models for stress management. Adults have more experience with handling stressful events, and these are skills that they can share with their kids to help them cope. Using a guided worksheet on helpful coping skills for teen anxiety can help them handle anxiety and stress along with your guidance.

Encourage family time

School can get very busy, especially during exam season. This combined with parents’ or guardians’ work schedules can make it difficult for the family to spend time together. If you are to establish a good support system at home for your teen, then it’s necessary to spend some time together.

Family time doesn’t have to be a big deal. It can be as simple as eating together a couple of nights a week or spending some weekends doing an activity, such as going out for a walk in the park. After all, research has shown that time outdoors reduces stress [*]. When your teen isn’t in school, go for a short hike or a picnic to relieve stress and anxiety.

Focusing on the positive aspects of school

Teens who are anxious about school are likely to focus on its negative aspects. It may help to practice turning such negative thoughts into positive ones to help them reduce their anxiety about attending school. It doesn’t have to be a long list of positive aspects. One or two important ones will do, such as the presence of their friends or perhaps a class they really like.

When to Seek Professional Help

It is possible to address anxiety and school refusal in teenagers using the tips above. However, if your child is missing school frequently and still exhibiting symptoms of school anxiety after some time, then it may be best to seek professional help.

Mental health professionals can introduce effective anxiety coping skills for teens that can target the root cause of the problem. Addressing this issue as soon as possible is important as untreated anxiety can lead to other problems, such as depression.

The Bottom Line

Anxiety can affect anybody. Whether you’re a working adult or a teen coping with the daily challenges of school, it is possible to feel the symptoms of this condition. The good news is that treating school anxiety in teens is possible. With the right type of adjustments and interventions, teens can feel more confident about going to school and excelling in their own unique ways.

References:

  1. Anxiety and Depression Association of America. School Refusal. 29 September 2021.
  2. Ewert A and Chang Y. Levels of Nature and Stress Response. 17 May 2018.

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