Students’ Anxiety is More Than Just Test Jitters
December 17, 2019
In schools today, tests aren’t the only thing students stress about. With lockdown drills throughout the year, it feels like we’re just waiting for the day that a real emergency takes place. But what is the likelihood of anything really happening, and what measures does our school’s administration say are being taken to prevent it?
For most teenagers with anxiety, going to school can seem like a daunting task. However, this anxiety is manageable. With knowledge of school safety, procedures designed specifically to help struggling students, coping and grounding methods, and professional help, school can be a safe and comfortable learning space for everyone.
The truth is, school shootings are incredibly rare. David Ropeik, a reporter for The Washington Post, says that “…the statistical likelihood of any given public school student being killed by a gun, in school, on any given day since 1999 ❲is❳ roughly 1 in 614,000,000.” Despite this, students continue to worry. In large part, this is due to the media. Cell phones and news outlets notify students instantaneously when something bad happens. Because teenagers have quick access to this information, it inflates fear over a similar situation in our town, even though the risk of a shooting at our school is extremely low.
The administration recognizes students’ anxiety, and emergency preparedness, in particular, is meant to provide students with relief. Lillian Parmelee, School Psychologist at Guilford High School, says that having a routine down can reduce freezing if students ever encounter danger at school, and practicing lockdown drills can keep teenagers calm in an emergency. While drills are hard to practice correctly this year due to COVID-19 concerns, students are well-versed in school safety procedures. Since elementary school, Guilford students have practiced lockdown drills monthly. This ensures that even with this year’s obstacles, the vast majority of students know what to do during a lockdown because of procedures practiced in the past. According to the National Association of School Psychologists, or NASP, the situations mimicked in lockdowns have been “…designed to prevent, prepare for, and respond to safety threats.” In addition, our school is specifically designed to keep students safe. Joel Rebhun, Assistant Principal at Guilford High, strongly believes that the security measures here nearly neutralize threats. “We are fortunate to be in a brand new building that was designed with the safety and security of students in mind,” says Rebhun. “The facility, in combination with our…drills, makes this a very safe place to attend school.”
NASP also recognizes that these drills cannot eliminate all anxiety within the student population, and even increases fear for some. NASP’s website states that lockdowns can create more anxiety, stress, and trauma in some students and staff. Teenagers’ anxiety today revolves around so much more than grades, and the truth is, no amount of lockdown drills will help students struggling with severe anxiety.
Parmelee suggests students who continue to struggle with anxiety on a daily basis should utilize certain grounding skills and coping techniques to manage their anxiety or choose to speak to a mental health professional. According to therapistaid.com, a website created to help therapists, common coping skills include challenging irrational thoughts, imagery, deep breathing techniques, and progressive muscle relaxation. Grounding methods like body awareness, mental exercises, ‘categories,’ and the 5-4-3-2-1 technique may also help to manage anxiety. David Esteban, a social worker at Guilford High, believes anxious students should consider downloading audio activities from the website above. These listenings can help guide students to a more calm state of mind. In his career, Esteban has found success with mindfulness. He recommends guided imagery, which is the use of music and words to bring positivity and calmness to its practicer; pseudo meditation, which is a less intense version of meditation; minute meditation, where a minute is taken at the time of stress to picture a relaxing image and practice deep breathing; and art therapy, a form of psychotherapy which involves the encouragement of free expression intended to reduce anxiety. “Each person has a different method they like best,” said Esteban. He recommends that different techniques are tried before abandoning mindfulness. Mindfulness, as Esteban says, simply means paying attention in a purposeful way.
Focusing on deep breathing, envisioning oneself in a place of serenity, practicing safety procedures, and finding a constructive relief outlet are just a few methods that can be helpful to those struggling with anxiety. To find out more, visit our school counseling department or see an administrator.
¹Ropeik, David. “School shootings are extraordinarily rare. Why is fear of them driving policy?” The Washington Post, 8 March 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/school-shootings-are-extraordinarily-rare-why-is-fear-of-them-driving-policy/2018/03/08/f4ead9f2-2247-11e8-94da-ebf9d112159c_story.html. Accessed 15 November 2020.
²“Mitigating Psychological Effects of Lockdowns.” National Association of School Psychologists, 2016, https://www.nasponline.org/resources-and-publications/resources-and-podcasts/school-climate-safety-and-crisis/systems-level-prevention/mitigating-psychological-effects-of-lockdowns. Accessed 15 November 2020.