Supporting Anxious Students with Nicole Caines by Michelle Hopper

May 6th, 2017

Nicole is a psychologist and works with Foothills Academy.  I really enjoyed this session with Nicole for a variety of reasons.  She began by describing the different types of anxiety and how it can present itself in students.  One of the more common types of anxiety is General Anxiety Disorder, which can present itself in multiple dimensions, in other words two students with the same disorder may display very unique symptoms.
She also discussed causes of anxiety including nature and nurture; as well as the many signs and symptoms of anxiety.  One really interesting fact Nicole pointed out is that some behaviours associated with anxiety may not present themselves at school, since these kids can keep it together while at school, and then once they are home they will explode, shut down etc.
Nicole then discussed the way that anxiety is often closely linked with another condition, for instance, many kids who have ADHD may also suffer from anxiety.
One of the most valuable lessons I learned at this PD was although we want to naturally comfort a young person who is feeling anxious, by telling them “I’m sure you didn’t fail” or “I’m sure you will do fine on the test,” these statements can actually accommodate the anxiety, and not deal with it effectively.  Nicole talked about anxiety wanting certainty and comfort, and when it can’t have these two things, there is avoidance.  I feel I’ve really started to notice this behaviour with girls at our school this year…they feel anxious about coming to school, so they don’t come to school, or they feel anxious about writing a math summative, so they avoid writing the summative.
Thinking about how we as teachers can help includes encouraging our young people to tolerate uncertainty and discomfort, and therefore, us needing ​to build our tolerance to their reactions.  Some important messages to remember: “​Feeling scared does not equal being in danger; our bodies can give us false alarms; anxiety sometimes leads our minds to play tricks on us and give us false alarms; and we can shrink anxiety by recognizing its tricks and not letting it outsmart us.”

Compassion • Integrity • Collaboration • Courage • Curiosity • Democracy • Diversity