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Anxiety describes feeling uneasy, worried, or fearful and is a natural response to physical or psychological stressors and perceived potential threats. It can affect thoughts, feelings, and behaviours, and also manifest in physical symptoms. Experiencing anxiety isn’t necessarily a problem and doesn’t always lead to or require a diagnosis of a disorder. Most often, anxiety is a normal and expected response to situations that we experience in everyday life. Problems can arise when feelings of anxiety become severe, frequent, and overwhelming and start interfering with everyday life and engagement with activities.  

Anxiety is a common experience of children and young people and can help with developing awareness of potential threats and understanding personal feelings about different situations that may arise. The last Pupil Wellbeing Survey conducted in Devon in 2021 in a sample of 6,000 pupils revealed that children in primary school often felt anxious or worried about the environment, tests, the future, problems with friends, and crime. Secondary school pupils were most worried about exams, the future, school/homework, appearance, and the mental health of family members.  

What are the signs? 

 How anxiety manifests itself can look different from person to person, however common signs can include: 

  • Shallow or rapid breathing 
  • Panic attacks 
  • Nausea  
  • Dry mouth 
  • Sweating 
  • Muscle tension  
  • Shaking  
  • IBS  
  • Sensitive to noise, light, and smells 
  • Feeling hot  
  • Trouble sleeping 
  • Tiredness  
  • Feeling on edge 
  • Reoccurring upsetting or negative thoughts 
  • Having a sense of dread 
  • Hypervigilance  
  • Worrying about minor issues 
  • Avoiding situations, people, and places  
  • Difficulty concentrating  
  • Being fidgeting or distracted  
  • Withdrawal and disengagement from activities  
  • Procrastinating  
  • Frequent unexplained absences 
  • Developing repeated actions or rituals  
  • Eating more or less than usual  
  • Self-harming 

It is important that concerns are raised with pupils, parents/carers, and/or pastoral support staff to establish if there are any underlying issues as anxiety may not be the only cause behind these behaviours. 

For most children and young people, specialist intervention won’t be required, and the culture and ethos of the school, teaching and awareness, and relationships with staff and peers can provide the appropriate support structures.  

  • Engage in active listening – listen to understand when discussing anxiety, don’t make assumptions, dismiss or invalidate their feelings, or jump to problem-solving  
  • Ensure that trusted adults are available to talk and listen, and that staff can share information about other support available in school 
  • Normalise feelings of anxiety – help pupils to understand that whilst uncomfortable anxiety is often a normal response  
  • Teach pupils about anxiety – seek to improve knowledge and understanding and help pupils to develop healthy coping strategies 
  • Have clear expectations – ensure that changes in routine are communicated clearly with plenty of notice and use visual aids to help pupils anticipate and be aware of changes  
  • Ensure environments are inclusive and that all pupils are able to participate  
  • Provide activities, quiet times, and opportunities for reflection throughout the school day as well as spaces that pupils can access  
  • Work with individual pupils to identify particular difficulties and work together with parents/carers and other school staff to agree a support plan 
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