As a parent, you can do a lot to help your teen overcome this anxiety so that it doesn’t cripple their academic performance or take over their life. To get started, it helps to understand how anxiety works as a biochemical process, and how it can interfere with your teen’s ability to do well in school. Then you can formulate a plan for helping your adolescent overcome anxiety, using a self-help program.
Understanding the Process of Anxiety
Let’s start by looking at the biochemical process known as the “fight or flight” response which is the body and mind’s first response to immediate stress. If you have ever had a close call while driving, then you know what the fight or flight response feels like: your pulse rate speeds up, your blood pressure shoots up, and your breathing becomes rapid and shallow. You may also start shaking and sweating. Mentally, you may have racing thoughts, feel like you are losing control, or fear that you might die. These changes are wrought in your body as cortisol, also known as the “stress hormone,” and adrenaline flood your body in response to a perceived threat.
If your child is having trouble at school, this fight or flight response can be provoked at any time that she feels pressure to perform academically. This can mean a standardized test, a regular exam in class, performance anxiety in class (such as having to make a presentation or recite a poem), or doing homework. If you have ever experienced this level of anxiety, you know how difficult it is to continue on with your life, much less try to accomplish something academic in the immediate aftermath of a panic attack. So teaching your child to cope with these emotions effectively – or even head them off before they become an issue – is the best way to help them out of this constant cycle of panic and despair.
How Anxiety Affects Academic Performance
It’s interesting to note that some anxiety surrounding academic performance can actually be desirable. Some amount of anxiety actually spurs the motivation to do the work. For example, if a big exam is looming ahead, your child may be compelled to study if she feels anxious about doing well. But there is a point at which anxiety can run away with your child’s emotions – and with it, the ability to do well in school. To combat this level of anxiety, it helps to know the four common ways it can manifest itself.
The 4 Issues Concerning Academic Anxiety
There are four core ways in which academic anxiety can be manifested:
- Deficient study skills – students with anxiety may develop poor study skills, such as cramming before an exam, rather than actually learning the material. This means that when your student takes the test, she will forget many of the answers, which will result in a bad grade. By learning and developing proper study skills, your student can eliminate much of the anxiety that goes along with test preparation and homework.
- Interference with tasks – Anxiety can derail a student’s progress, as they develop behaviors that interfere with the task at hand. For example, your student may watch the clock constantly during an exam rather than answer questions efficiently. A self-help program can help your child implement stress-reduction techniques that will help her stay on track during an exam.
- Physical symptoms – all of the physical symptoms of a fight or flight response – shaking, sweatiness, nausea, elevated heart rate and blood pressure, and increased pulse rate – can cause your child to do poorly in school, or begin avoiding it altogether. By learning simple relaxation techniques, your child can combat these physical symptoms.
- Worry – constant “doomsday” thinking, worrying, racing thoughts, and other destructive mental patterns can keep your child from doing well in school simply because they prevent your child from being able to focus. By implementing stress reduction techniques, you can help your child learn to be in the moment and halt negative thought patterns before they take hold.
As a parent, you need to help your child learn how to deal with stress effectively on two fronts: general stress reduction which decreases the overall amount of stress in your child’s life, and specific techniques designed to halt a panic attack as it begins. A good self-help program can help you attack on both fronts, giving your child the tools she needs to be successful in school. These tools can also benefit her for the rest of her life; for as we all know, stress does not end when you graduate.
Some techniques that can reduce the overall amount of stress in your teen’s life include:
- Yoga – known as meditation through movement, yoga has been touted for its ability to help you release and reduce stress, find stability, and harness your focus.
- Meditation – by focusing on being “in the moment” for a short period of time during the day, you can cut back on the level of stress in your life while finding balance and harmony.
- Visualization – by visualizing certain situations, such as an upcoming exam, and then visualizing the outcome as positive, your child can begin to overcome her anxiety about a specific aspect of her life.
- Diaphragmatic breathing – by learning to breathe deeply, your child can lower her blood pressure and heart rate and increase the amount of oxygen circulating in her body. This can help prevent hyperventilation and restore calm.
- Scripted response – by writing out a script to follow in advance, your child can pull out the script during emergencies and walk herself through a calming exercise.
- Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) – by alternately tensing and relaxing the muscle groups in the body, your child can promote relaxation, blood flow, and oxygen flow through the body, halting the fight or flight response.