Written by Doctor G

Too Anxious for School

1I have a teen daughter who has social anxiety. She struggled with school due to crowds, but started to miss a lot of time in grades 7 -9 . This year in grade 10 she started a new school and I am lucky I can convince her out the door 2 days a week. We have an appointment for psychologist but its 2 months away. Any tips or tricks to help her relax so i can get her to school in the mean time?

Anonymous, in WA

Actually, I think it is time to consider cyber-school or homeschooling. I don’t say that because this situation is “unfixable.” I say that for two reasons:

  1. One visit with a psychologist in 2 months is not going to solve this immediately. She is unlikely to start attending school daily after that first appointment.
  2. A school alternative would take a lot of the pressure off your daughter.

Social anxiety is a very real phobia. The person often become extremely anxious anticipating what they will say or do in front of other people. Sometimes the fear is specific to certain situations, but for some – like your daughter – it is true in any situation with other people.

If you can separate her social phobia from her ability to succeed at academics, she may have a much easier time learning to manage her anxiety. Likely her anxiety is made worse by your understandable concern that she will fail out of school or just never complete her education.

Your daughter does not have to spend the rest of high school learning from home. However, getting her back into education as a separate issue from treating her anxiety can help her with both issues.

Anxiety is worsened by poor sleep, poor nutrition, lack of exercise and high stress situations. A traditional school schedule worsens all four of these!

Is it possible for you and your daughter to pursue some other academic options between now and when she starts therapy? Perhaps you can agree on a goal of going to summer school (which is usually smaller in class size and with a little less stress) or starting in the fall?

Also, while you are waiting for that first therapy appointment, encourage your daughter to:

  1. Keep a journal of her symptoms and the timing.
  2. Journal about when she doesn’t feel anxious and why.
  3. Explore stress management tools, like exercise, breathing, positive thinking, visualization, whatever makes sense to her.

Best of luck to you and your daughter. This is a difficult but usually manageable condition.

Has anyone else had experience managing social anxiety in a school-aged person?


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2 thoughts on “Too Anxious for School”

  1. Deirdre O'Malley, Psy.D.

    The longer a person avoids something that they are afraid of, the worse the fear becomes. As a psychologist who treats adolescents with anxiety and school avoidance, I strongly disagree that this student should be removed from school. The more she can face school and social interactions, the more she will become accustomed to them and her anxiety will slowly decrease. This is not to say getting her to school is easy. I agree with the suggestions to explore stress management tools such as slow breathing and visualization (there are many videos that teach these strategy on the web). I also suggest contacting this school and asking for their assistance in getting this student in the building. Oftentimes, a call from a school faculty member to the student in the morning is motivating; other times, a school counselor might be willing to meet the student at the parent’s car to help push them to get inside. The school might be able to make accommodations such as starting with a shortened school day or allowing the student to eat lunch in a designated place where she won’t feel the pressure to interact in an unstructured environment. Research shows that helping students face their fears and not avoid school is the most effective way to treat this issue.

    1. Thank you so much Dr. O’Malley for sharing your expertise! There is evidence that this is a great approach, though that research is in kids who are being treated for their anxiety, not awaiting treatment. There is the real possibility that what seems like social anxiety may be PTSD or something else. It is harder to know what to do with a teen who has not yet been diagnosed or treated.

      Anonymous, have you involved the school – administrators or counselors or perhaps a teacher she feels some connection to? That sounds like a wonderful motivation tool as well!

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