How to Beat School Performance Anxiety
School performance anxiety can have a profound impact on a student’s academic performance and overall well-being. The pressures of school, social expectations, and personal challenges can contribute to heightened anxiety levels among teens and young adults. However, it’s important to remember that anxiety does not define a person’s potential for success. Let’s explore the impact of anxiety on school performance and offer practical tips and strategies for teens and students, as well as their parents, to effectively cope with anxiety and thrive in the school environment.
How Common is it?
According to the National Institutes of Health, nearly 32% of adolescents have an anxiety disorder, with girls experiencing it more often than boys (38% v 26%) These numbers increase for college students. Earlier this year the University of Michigan released their annual Healthy Minds study. This was a survey of 96,000 U.S. students across 133 campuses in the 2021-22 academic year. It found that 44% of students reported symptoms of depression, and 37% reported anxiety disorders.
Teens and students can have many things that impact their mental health. Those can be very individualized, but in most cases, the sources are similar in students. A Pew Social Trends study showed similarities and differences based on age. Middle school students cited getting good grades as their source of stress 61% of the time, while college students listed stress and anxiety as the reasons for their academic performance suffering (36.5 and 29.5% respectively)
Timing can also be a factor. An American College Health Association study found that the sharpest increase in anxiety occurs during the initial transition to college. At the same time, 31% of US students listed finals and midterms as their biggest source of stress.
And sometimes, these factors combine to make the impact even greater. For example, pulling all-nighters to prepare for the mid-term that is stressing the student out increases their intake of caffeine and limits their sleep, both of which contribute to anxiety. Anxiety has also been linked to a decrease in school performance, which then increases the stress about grades. This is the spiral that teens and students can get caught up in.
How to Get Beyond the Spiral
The strongest predictor of mental well-being is the amount of quality sleep you get. That was the conclusion of a 2020 study conducted in New Zealand. Sleep gives both your brain and your body time to rest and repair. There are simple things that can help you get better quality rest, including cutting off caffeine at noon, limiting napping and limiting electronic screens after a certain time. There are more tips at the end of chapter 4 in Beyond the Spiral.
Just breathe. Sounds simple, right? That’s because it is. Intentional breathing exercises can be very effective tools to help control anxiety, especially in the moment. In Chapter 2, we discuss what we call the 4-7-8 breathing technique, but there are others that you can use. Harvard University published a blog to help their students understand how to use breathing to ease anxiety. Northwestern University published a guide for their students to reduce test anxiety, which included breathing exercises. The school states that relaxation techniques can even make a difference in test scores.
One of the dirtiest tricks anxiety plays on us is to convince us that we just need to stay in bed or lay around, avoiding the source of our stress. The truth is, getting the body moving is one of the most effective ways to combat school performance anxiety.
120 minutes of aerobic activity each week helps increase memory and verbal learning abilities. It also helps those of us who are chronic worriers or overthinkers get more restful sleep. Physical activity also helps get our hormones back on track and completes the fight or flight stress cycle we may be caught in.
School performance anxiety is a real thing, but like other forms of anxiety, it is a liar. Identifying and countering those lies is how we break free of the spiral anxiety puts us into. It is important that we take care of ourselves and seek help from trusted adults or professionals when we struggle. Anxiety may be something you struggle with, but it is not who you are.