As the world slowly starts to get back to a new post-pandemic normal, we’re beginning to see some of the consequences of spending the last two years trying to live life in a way that was anything but normal. Working as a school-based mental health professional both before and after the height of the pandemic, I’ve observed some notable shifts in the needs of students over the last several years. Anxiety especially is at an all-time high and appears to be affecting larger percentages of the population.
Some examples of the different types of anxiety that have emerged in a post-pandemic world for students are:
- Extreme pressure on themselves to do well on assignments and tests so that they can catch up from lost instructional time.
- Social anxiety and inability to effectively navigate peer conflict due to missing critical periods of in-person socialization.
- Somatization and attempts to leave school to avoid separation from caregivers or loved ones.
- Internalizing the elevated anxiety of adults who are also coping with post-pandemic struggles.
- Heightened awareness of ailments or illness.
One of the most effective ways to treat anxiety in a school setting is with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is advantageous because it’s strongly backed by evidence, can be used as a brief intervention, and there is a lot of flexibility in how it can be taught. When implementing CBT in a school setting, the first phase should focus on helping students expand their feelings vocabulary and notice intensity. This is so that students learn to recognize the difference between feeling a little nervous about an upcoming test and extreme fear that something terrible will happen to their caregiver while they’re at school. Naming the feeling and intensity can then eventually be paired with body awareness and linked to various coping skills to help bring the body and mind back to a state of calm.
Mindfulness is another technique that’s effective and easy to implement in schools especially because students and adults both benefit when it’s being practiced. Three different components of mindfulness to practice are grounding, deep breathing, and gratitude. Grounding brings the mind back to the present moment, deep breathing calms the body, and gratitude helps with reframing negative thinking.
While CBT and mindfulness are both highly effective treatment methods to use in schools, the challenge with amplified post-pandemic anxiety among students is that there aren’t enough mental health professionals to provide the support that’s needed. Schools are forced to get creative in figuring out ways to support larger cohorts of students. Some schools have been given extra funding to hire more mental health providers while others are utilizing “peace corners” in classrooms for students to use when their stress becomes unbearable. While it’s refreshing to witness such a large shift in prioritizing mental health support in schools, it still isn’t enough.
The truth is teachers face the brunt of post-pandemic stressors with students regularly in the classroom and while they are often the first to notice the behaviors of students who are struggling with anxiety, they don’t always feel prepared with how to support these students. If we want to continue to prioritize mental wellness in schools and service as many students as possible, it’s critical that we also equip teachers with tools and strategies to handle the different types of anxiety they observe in their classrooms.
This is why PESI is excited to offer a free seminar that was created specifically with teachers in mind. Anxiety in the Classroom
is a one-day certification training designed to help teachers identify the earliest warning signs of anxiety and learn effective time-saving strategies to address some of the most common types of anxiety in a post-pandemic classroom. For even more resources and strategies for treating child mental health needs in a post-pandemic world, click here to check out PESI’s Youth Mental Health Specialist Certification Training.