Understanding Anxiety by Helen Wilson

There are as many as 3 million people in the UK with a disabling anxiety disorder according to the Psychiatric Morbidity Survey (2000). Since 75% of these conditions will have developed before the age of 18 (Murphy and Fonagy 2012), we play a crucial role in spotting the signs of anxiety and providing appropriate support to young people suffering from it.

So what signs suggest that a young person may have an anxiety disorder? We all know that everybody feels anxious at times but it is persistent signs of unease that wave a red flag.

  • Physical symptoms of anxiety can be extremely frightening as they can include fainting, heart palpitations and breathing difficulties. Commonly, those with anxiety suffer with gastric problems such as cramps, diarrhoea, nausea and vomiting.


  • Behavioural consequences of anxiety such as anger and violence can be very disruptive and may not, at first glance, suggest that somebody is anxious. Equally, when a student goes out of their way to ingratiate themselves with you or their peers, it might not ordinarily ring alarm bells yet it can be part of the alarm response as is truancy and ‘shutting down’. Excessive thirst, skin-picking, hair-chewing, self-harm and abnormal appetite can all be compulsive behaviours resulting from anxiety.

How to help:

Like students with ASD or SpLD’s, students with anxiety benefit from a tidy classroom environment with supportive seating. They will also appreciate clear instructions such as checklists. It is worth considering how the student can best demonstrate their understanding: often, answering a question in front of the class induces panic preventing further engagement. Offering a time out for students who appear to be reaching a high level of anxiety can free them from the fear cycle.

Anxiety can be a safeguarding issue so if you have any concerns about a student being at risk of harm or if a student develops a consistently high level of anxiety, please relay your concerns to Jill Travers and the safeguarding team using CPOMS.


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