However it presents, anxiety can be managed. Here are a few tips to help you manage anxiety in your classroom.
1. Have a good understanding of what anxiety and the fight or flight response are.
2. Label what your student is experiencing as anxiety. This normalises the emotion and the physiological experiences. Confidently remind your student that anxiety is a short-term response and that it shouldn’t last any longer than 10 minutes.
3. Avoidance is never the solution. Never. The student may need to remove themselves for 10 minutes to calm their anxiety, but not an entire class or assessment task. Avoidance only negatively reinforces the need to avoid (flight).
4. Encourage controlled breathing techniques to activate the parasympathetic nervous system and to slow down the breathing and heart rate.
Hold your breath for 6 seconds
Exhale to the count of 3 seconds
Inhale to the count of 3 seconds
Repeat 9 times.
Or, long slow exhalations & shorter inhalations. Ten should do the trick.
5. Ask the student what they are most worried about. Then help them look for any evidence to support the worry (hint: there won’t be any). Next ask what evidence they have that the worry won’t come true (hint: there’ll be tonnes).
6. Shake it off. Anxiety is a physical emotion. Tactile things like stress balls, taking shoes off to ‘ground’ self, can really work. Walking, or lying on your back with your legs up the wall for 15 minutes can really help.
7. Share what works for you, only if you feel comfortable. This normalises anxiety for your student and gives them confidence that they can manage it.
8. Have a drawer or space in your classroom to keep putty, stress balls and fidget cubes etc. When appropriate, let them play with these items as you teach. Chances are, they’ll be able to concentrate better.
9. If the anxiety doesn’t settle, refer the student service for some time out.
10. If the student has persistent issues around social or performance anxiety, consider referring them to a private psychologist.