The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

Sara Boomsma

Anxiety: a growing epidemic?

The pressure placed on pupils today is ever mounting. Expectations and social pressures leave some pupils unable to cope. Here are some top tips for supporting pupils with anxiety.

The pressure placed on pupils today is ever mounting. Expectations surrounding academic achievement, coupled with social pressures and the online world, mean that some pupils are unable to cope. Colleagues noted that a whole-school approach to supporting anxious students was essential to help to tackle this growing problem in schools.

What the statistics tell us

65% of schools surveyed noted anxiety as a growing issue.*

As many as 1 in 6 young people will experience an anxiety condition at some point in their lives.**

But how do I implement a whole-school approach to managing anxiety?

There are two simple steps to take that can lead the way to a whole-school approach:

  1. raising awareness
  2. communication

Staff training is essential but it’s also important that pupils can spot the signs and know the steps to take. For anxiety to be handled and managed effectively it must be a subject that the whole school community can talk about.

As you would expect, if a pupil is struggling it is important that they feel comfortable talking to a member of staff, and feel confident that they will be listened to and understood.

Exam anxiety

Here are some tips on how to help pupils cope with exam anxiety, collated by Zoe Dale, a consultant trainer for Young Minds for you to try.

Advice for students

  • Talk about how you feel with someone you trust. Be prepared to say how you really feel.
  • Slow deep breaths with long exhalations will help calm racing thoughts and a pounding heart.
  • Work out a realistic revision timetable –include things you enjoy.
  • Our minds need rest to maximise their potential for learning, so get enough sleep and eat regularly. 
  • Exercise – being active helps with sleep and switching off.
  • Check with staff – what do you need to revise and how should you approach it?

Advice for staff

  • Listen, be sympathetic and patient – model being calm and in control.
  • Ask yourself these questions:
    • Are there any worries that would be helpful to talk about?
    • What triggers the feelings of anxiety?
    • What helps you feel calmer at school/home?
  • Don’t just expect them to snap out of it – it takes time for the body and mind to calm down.
  • If a pupil experiences panic and begins to hyperventilate, gently support them to slow their breathing and focus on taking long exhalations.
  • Allow time out of the exam situation if a pupil has been experiencing acute anxiety.
  • Consider the option of vulnerable pupils sitting exams in a smaller, calmer room.
  • Support parents with instigating regular routines at home. Consider how concerned they may be – do they also need additional support with this issue?
  • Give help with advanced planning for revision.
  • Support pupils with a separate study space in school.


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