How to help a teenager with anxiety at school as a teacher or mental health lead (2023)

Anxiety can be a difficult and overwhelming experience for teenagers. It is estimated that one in five young people suffer from anxiety, with many of them struggling to cope with the everyday pressures of school life.

Unfortunately, students who struggle with their mental health often find it hard to ask for help or know where to turn when they are feeling overwhelmed. For teachers and school staff, understanding how best to support these students is key to helping them manage their anxieties and succeed at school.

This article will discuss what anxiety is, how teachers and schools can help students manage it effectively, as well as provide practical tips and ideas to support teenagers with anxiety at school. If you are looking for ideas on how to support anxious children in primary schools read this article here.

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is a common mental health issue among teenagers, and can have a significant impact on their social development, academic performance, and overall wellbeing.

Anxiety tends to affect a young person’s body, thoughts and feelings. They may also behave differently, including turning to certain coping behaviours to try to avoid or manage their anxiety.

Anxiety acts as a protective factor to stop the person from 'coming to harm' by triggering warning signs in the body, which feel awful and distressing. Anxiety makes people what to fight, fight, fawn or freeze. Teenagers may have different anxiety responses that result in them developing a range of coping strategies to help stop the awful feelings of anxiety

It’s important for teachers, parents and school leaders to understand how to help a teenager with anxiety in order to provide the support they need so they can engage in learning, feel comfortable at school and help prevent any longer-term mental health problems.

Symptoms of Anxiety in Teenagers

There are several psychical, mental and emotional symptoms of anxiety teenagers may display or experience when they are anxious

Physical symptoms of anxiety:

  • shallow or quick breathing, or feeling unable to breathe
  • feeling sick/queasy
  • dry mouth
  • sweating more than usual
  • tense muscles
  • feeling wobbly or unstable
  • tummy trouble or needing the toilet often
  • getting very hot or flustered
  • extreme anxiety can lead to panic attacks, which can include having a racing heart, breathing very quickly, sweating or shaking and feeling of being out of control

Anxious thoughts and feelings:

  • worrying so much that it is difficult to concentrate and/or sleep
  • overwhelmed or out of control
  • distant and not connected to what is going on around them
  • full of dread or a sense of impending doom.
  • unable to stop upsetting, scary or negative thoughts
  • nervous, on edge, panicky or frightened
  • on high alert to noises, smells or sights
  • worrying about being unable to cope with daily things like school, friendships and being in groups or social situations

Behaviours or changes you may see at school:

  • signs the young person is socially withdrawing or isolating themselves including not wanting to go to school, avoiding social or group situations, not wanting to be away from their parents, or avoiding trying new things.
  • sudden changes to behaviour that seem different
  • repeating certain behaviours, actions or rituals (often called ‘obsessive-compulsive behaviours’)
  • eating more or less than usual
  • issues sleeping or being tired all the time
  • self-harming

What makes young people anxious?

A young person may feel anxious for a number of different reasons, depending on the individual. If a student or young person you work with feeling unmanageable amounts of worry and fear, this is often a sign that something in their life isn’t right and they need support to work out what the problem is.

Certain things can trigger anxiety for some children and young people, such as:

  • being around or spending a lot of time with someone who is very anxious, such as a parent or family member
  • going through many changes in a short period of time, such as relocating to a new house or school.
  • being given responsibilities or duties beyond their appropriate age and level of development, for example, the responsibility of taking care of other family members.
  • struggling at school, including feeling overwhelmed by work, and exams or feeling they don't belong in peer groups or at school
  • going through family stress related to issues such as housing, financial difficulties, and debt.
  • going through distressing or traumatic experiences in which they do not feel safe, such as being bullied or witnessing or experiencing abuse.

Help for teenage anxiety

If a young person you work with is struggling with worry or anxiety, here are some ways you can support them and places you can get help.

Anxiety is a common mental health issue that affects many teenagers, and it can be especially challenging to deal with at school. As a teacher or pastoral staff member it can be a struggle to know how to help your child manage their anxiety and feel comfortable in their school environment.

Here are some practical tips and advice to help teenagers with anxiety at school, as well as share wellbeing strategies that can help prevent mental health problems from developing.

1. Recognize the signs of anxiety

A key step in helping a teenager with anxiety at school is to recognize their early signs. Anxiety can manifest in many different ways, including physical symptoms like headaches, stomach aches, and fatigue, as well as emotional symptoms like irritability, moodiness, and excessive worry. You can support teenagers to become more aware of these symptoms, so they can seek help to help them cope with anxiety sooner.

Helping young people to identify early signs of anxiety can be taught in mental health lessons or be part of a whole school approach. One caveat that we suggest when developing or teaching anxiety awareness is that it doesn't lead to over-pathologising or over-diagnosis and that all of a sudden everyone is labelled as anxious, when in fact they are having a normal and understandable reaction to a challenging or distressing situation. To counter this it can be more helpful to focus this awareness-raising work on strategies that cultivate personal wellbeing and prevent anxiety can be more beneficial to teach to teenagers or as a whole school community.

2. Encourage open communication

One of the most important things you can do to help a teenager with anxiety at school is to encourage open communication. Let them know that you are there to listen and support them, and that it's okay to talk about their feelings. Encourage them to express how they're feeling, and try to validate their emotions. This can help them feel heard and understood, which can be a big step in managing their anxiety.

Using mental health awareness raising events like World Mental Health Day or Mental Health Awareness week provides a great opportunity to develop open conversations about anxiety, reduce stigma and raise awareness of where and how to access help and support to deal with any anxiety issues. Many schools we work with use our Wellbeing Ambassadors programme to train students to help design awareness-raising events that encourage open communication.

3. Help teenagers develop coping strategies

There are many different coping strategies that can help teenagers manage their anxiety at school. Teaching them or supporting young people to use deep breathing exercises can also be helpful in managing anxiety in the moment. Additionally, encourage the young person to take breaks when they need to, and to prioritize their mental health over their academic responsibilities.

A key approach is to encourage young people to develop a personal range of wellbeing strategies or routines that can include activities like exercise, meditation, or journaling. Positive psychology approaches such as working with the SEARCH pathways to wellbeing has been proven to improve teenagers' mental health and wellbeing and can be taught as wellbeing curriculum or lessons so young people can increase the range of wellbeing strategies that prevent anxiety they can use.

Working with a coach can help young people find out, understand and use wellbeing strategies they find helpful, making them adaptable and personal to meet their needs. Working with a coach also helps young people to take responsibility for their own wellbeing meaning young people are much more likely to use their own strategies when they are starting to feel anxious.

4. Using strategies to manage anxiety at school

If a teenager is struggling with anxiety at school, it can be helpful to develop a plan for managing their anxiety. Talk to your child's teacher or the school mental health lead about the situation the young person is in, and see if any accommodations can be made to help the young person feel more comfortable. This might include things like extra time on tests, permission to take breaks during class, or the option to leave class early if needed, starting school after registration or using strategies to self-regulate.

Other young people or peers can be a great help when helping teenagers with anxiety develop coping strategies at school. Programmes like our Wellbeing Ambassadors programme train teenagers to learn and share wellbeing strategies based on coaching and positive psychology with peers either 1-2-1, in groups or through the school culture.

5. Consider providing therapy or coaching

If a teenager is struggling with anxiety at school, it may be helpful to consider cognitive behavioural therapy. A therapist can work with them to develop coping strategies and provide support as they navigate their anxiety. Additionally, therapy can help your child develop the skills they need to manage their anxiety in the long-term, which can be invaluable as they move through adolescence and into adulthood. Localised Mental Health Support teams can offer brief CBT based interventions, these may be available in your local area, or local third-sector organisations may be able to provide CBT or counselling sessions.

However, we are specialists in coaching and suggest that coaching provides a great opportunity to support young people prevent or manage anxiety before it gets more difficult to manage.

Coaching teenagers with anxiety helps them access patterns of thinking, feeling and behaviours that are associated with or give rise to anxiety. It is a great way to provide early prevention and increase young people's ability to develop their own resources or strategies for wellbeing.

Coaching aims to explore alternative thinking patterns and their potential outcomes, it breaks down the process of embedding these chosen patterns into our day-to-day lives in manageable steps and keeps us accountable and on-task when making changes to thoughts and behaviours.

How to help a teenager with anxiety pdf

Schools and practitioners are often looking for resources or downloads that can help anxiety in teenagers. Our free Worth-it Guide Wellbeing Booklet provides a downloadable pdf of wellbeing activities based on positive psychology you can use in 1-2-1 sessions or as a classroom resource. Completing activities like those included in the Worth-it Guide can help reduce the onset of anxiety by increasing wellbeing resources and self-awarness. Download the free pdf for free here.

And Finally...

In conclusion, helping a teenager with anxiety at school can be a challenging task, but it's important to remember that there are many strategies and resources available to support them. Encourage open communication, help them develop coping strategies, develop a whole school approach, and consider therapy or coaching if needed.

With time and support, teenagers can learn to manage their anxiety and thrive in their school environment. For all our best resources about how to develop a whole school approach to mental health and wellbieng that prevents mental health problems join Wellbeing Club our DfE assured training for Senior Mental Health Leads.


How a teacher can help a student with anxiety? ›

According to her, here are the steps teachers should follow to deal with student anxiety in the classroom.
  • Start with a Student Meeting. ...
  • Create a Coping Toolbox. ...
  • Validate Student Feelings. ...
  • Use Mindfulness. ...
  • Teach Competence. ...
  • Refer Students for Additional Help.

What is the 333 rule for anxiety? ›

It involves looking around your environment to identify three objects and three sounds, then moving three body parts. Many people find this strategy helps focus and ground them when anxiety overwhelms them.

How do you calm down anxiety in class? ›

Strategies for How to Calm Yourself Down
  1. Breathing Techniques. This is such a simple, yet effective way to calm down. ...
  2. Take 5. Just take a quick five-minute break to get yourself back together. ...
  3. Re-Organize. ...
  4. Stress Balls. ...
  5. Walk It Out. ...
  6. Talk It Out. ...
  7. Don't Forget About You! ...
  8. The Wrap Up.
Sep 19, 2019

What accommodations are available for teachers with anxiety? ›

Reasonable accommodations for anxiety can include remote work, a support animal, a rest area, a modified break schedule, a flexible schedule, and shifts in schedule. The type of anxiety you have, your limitations, and your employer's resources will determine what accommodation is appropriate.

What is the 5 5 5 anxiety rule? ›

First, you may want to start with a simple deep breathing exercise called the 5-5-5 method. To do this, you breathe in for 5 seconds, hold your breath for 5 seconds, and then breathe out for 5 seconds. You can continue this process until your thoughts slow down or you notice some relief.

What are the three C's for anxiety? ›

It is based on the three "C's" of recovery calm your body, correct your thinking, and confront your fears.

What are the 4 Rs for anxiety? ›

In a series of graphics, Earnshaw breaks down the 4 Rs: relabeling, reattributing, refocusing, and revaluing—a therapy technique developed by psychology Jeffrey Schwartz that's often used in treatment for OCD.

What triggers anxiety in the classroom? ›

Concerns about not having enough friends, not being in the same class as friends, not being able to keep up with friends in one particular area or another, interpersonal conflicts, and peer pressure are a few of the very common ways kids can be stressed by their social lives at school.

What is the best school environment for anxiety? ›

Anxious children perform best in a calm, supportive, but organized classroom. Because change and uncertainty can be unsettling, a structured classroom, calmly disciplined will let children feel safe and know what to expect.

How do you release anxiety at school? ›

20 Ways To Help Students Who Struggle With Anxiety
  1. Educate yourself about anxiety. ...
  2. Create strong bonds. ...
  3. Practice those deep breaths. ...
  4. Take a break and go outside. ...
  5. Talk openly about anxiety. ...
  6. Tackle the topic with a good book. ...
  7. Get kids moving. ...
  8. Try walking and talking.
Oct 28, 2022

Can I be a good teacher if I have anxiety? ›

You can still be a great teacher, even with social anxiety. But you do have to take care of yourself, be proactive, and listen to your doctor.

Can I be a teacher if I have a lot of anxiety? ›

Yes, you can be a teacher with social anxiety. Here are tips for teachers to be less nervous when teaching. If you're a teacher experiencing social anxiety in school, there are many ways you can manage your condition and succeed in the profession you love.

What teachers should know about anxiety? ›

What Teachers Should Know. Anxiety disorders cause people to feel frightened, distressed, or uneasy during situations in which most people would not feel that way. Left untreated, anxiety disorders can make it hard for students to get schoolwork done or study.

What is the 3 2 1 anxiety trick? ›

She said: 'Essentially, you tick your way through your five senses and name 5 things you can see at this very moment, 4 things you can hear, 3 things you can feel (like your feet in your shoes, your bum on a chair), 2 things you can smell, and one thing you can taste, even if it's just the inside of your mouth or a sip ...

What is the 10 second rule for anxiety? ›

Think to yourself, “Just 10 more seconds.” Take a deep breath, and make it through those next 10 seconds. If you still have more to do, repeat the process.

What are the 5 C's of anxiety? ›

The 5Cs are competence, confidence, character, caring, and connection. The anxiety dimensions are Social anxiety, Physical symptoms, Separation anxiety, and Harm avoidance.

What is the 5 4 3 2 1 method for anxiety? ›

This technique asks you to find five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. Using this with someone who feels anxious will help to calm them down and reduce their feelings of anxiety.

What is the core root of anxiety? ›

It describes the arrival of a “core fear” — one's overriding interpretation of life as dangerous, and a “chief defense” — one's primary strategy for protecting oneself from that danger. The core fear and chief defense create a singular dynamic that, according to the model, is the true wellspring of basic anxiety.

What does ABC stand for in anxiety? ›

The ABCtracker™, an acronym for Alarm, Belief, Coping, helps users recognize and monitor anxiety triggers. Using the ABCs of Anxiety, you can master your uncomfortable feelings with help from your physician, psychologist, or another healthcare professional.

What are the 4 R's of coping? ›

One helpful way to practice Self-Awareness Self-Care is to nurture a regular habit of checking in with yourself around The Four R's of Resilience: Rest, Relaxation, Replenishment, and Release. These categories speak to four foundational pillars of personal wellness relating to sleep, stress relief, diet, and exercise.

What are some anxiety relief techniques? ›

Tips to help combat anxiety
  • Behavioral therapy.
  • Deep breathing.
  • Exercise.
  • Journaling.
  • Meditation.
  • Reading.
  • Socializing, following pandemic guidelines of social distancing, masking and hand hygiene)
  • Speaking with your health care provider.
Feb 10, 2021

What is the most common intervention for anxiety? ›

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most effective form of psychotherapy for anxiety disorders. Generally a short-term treatment, CBT focuses on teaching you specific skills to improve your symptoms and gradually return to the activities you've avoided because of anxiety.

How can teachers help emotionally disturbed students? ›

Remain calm, state misconduct, and avoid debating or arguing with student. Ask student for reward ideas. Change rewards if they are not effective in changing behavior. Develop a schedule for using positive reinforcement; work to thin that schedule of reinforcement over time.

What do you say to a student with anxiety? ›

Tips for Talking to Students with Anxiety and/or OCD
  • Take their concerns seriously. ...
  • Offer validation and acceptance. ...
  • Avoid shaming. ...
  • Do not “call out” your student in front of the entire class. ...
  • Encourage your student to tell you if they are struggling. ...
  • Develop a game plan with your student. ...
  • Be mindful of how you communicate.

How can teachers help mental health? ›

Teachers not only listen, but also coach and mentor their students. They are able to help shape academic goals and are dedicated to getting their students to achieve them. Teachers have patience for their students and are understanding when a concept isn't taking.

What is the role of a teacher emotional support? ›

As a special education professional, an Emotional Support teacher works directly with students to identify emotional and behavioral problems in an effort to develop a plan that will enable the student to achieve their potential in school.

How can teachers support emotional regulation? ›

Build positive relationships with students.

Positive teacher-student relationships can encourage students to feel connected with their school. Feeling connected to school is associated with better emotion regulation and independence, which can in turn support resilience.

What not to say to a student with anxiety? ›

With that in mind, here are 10 phrases to avoid when your child verbalises anxious thoughts and feelings, or engages in anxious behaviours:
  • “Don't worry.” “There's nothing to worry about.” ...
  • “You'll be fine.” ...
  • “There's nothing to be afraid of.” ...
  • “It's no big deal.” ...
  • “I'll do it.” ...
  • Hurry up! ...
  • “Stop thinking about it.”


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