Even though depression and anxiety are two completely different disorders, it is not uncommon that a person with depression experiences symptoms similar to an anxiety disorder, such as lack of focus, irritability, and nervousness. Not only does anxiety and depression have a huge impact on the well-being of the individual, but it also influences the overall performance in the classroom. Of course, it is important for the teacher to identify the students who are struggling with symptoms of anxiety and depression and learn how to deal with the issue in the best manner possible. Unfortunately, the symptoms cannot always be easy to identify. Often, anxiety can manifest as an upset stomach or even as angry behavior. So, how to recognize anxiety and depression and effectively deal with it? Luckily, researchers have tried to tackle this topic and find ways to teach the more problematic students without major difficulties. Without further ado, here are some of the best possible ways to teach students who are struggling with anxiety and depression.
1. Practice deep breathing with the students
Whether it is an important test, oral exam, or just reading out loud in front of the classroom- it is no wonder students feel a certain amount of anxiety when arriving to class. Of course, an anxious brain cannot absorb as much new information (Or no information at all!) as well as a calm brain. To alleviate the feeling of anxiety in the classroom, teachers should start practicing taking deep breaths with their students from time to time. In fact, a couple of minutes of deep breathing exercises (or even better, meditation) before class might be more soothing to the brain and nervous system as one might have imagined. This phenomenon happens as a result of the vagus nerve sending signals to the brain to turn down the sympathetic nervous system. This so-called “sympathetic nervous system” is the reason for a racing heart rate and increased amount of cortisol in the bloodstream. So, the procedure of putting the body in a parasympathetic state can be achieved quite easily. Remember to practice breathing in and out with the students and focus on taking deep breaths. By doing this breathing exercise with your students, not only will the classroom be calmer, but the overall mood will be much more joyful.
2. Have a class in nature
Spending quality time in natural surroundings not only helps with alleviating the symptoms of both anxiety and depression, but it is also an excellent way to get the students to be more engaged in the learning process. As a matter of fact, the healing effects of nature have been well documented by humankind ever since ancient times. Did you know that according to Ayurveda, the most powerful healing tradition of India, humans should spend time in nature every single day? So, it does not come as a surprise that being cooped up in a classroom the entire day may make the symptoms of anxiety and depression even worse. Naturally, which teacher would not want to spend a bit of time with the students outside, under the sun? Most importantly, nature is one of the best remedies against stress and irritability. So, if there is a possibility to change the scenery, take the class out into nature. As a result, the students will definitely feel more relaxed, centered and focused on the lecture and assigned tasks.
3. Walk it out
Recent studies have shown that one of the newest and best forms of therapy for anxiety and depression is through the use of physical activity. As a matter of fact, this method of therapy allows the students to address their subconscious issues, without the possibility of being embarrassed in front of their peers. Many teachers can act as therapists if the strategy is well applied. The best way to deal with certain problems the child or older student might be facing is to approach them and ask them to take a walk with you around the playground, school, or the area. Through exercise (in this case, walking) the body will release calming endorphins. Not only does this strategy give the student a chance to explain the issue, but it is also a great way to get the blood pumping and to improve overall mood. If you as a teacher find yourself dealing with challenging behaviour in the classroom, then do not hesitate to consult with trained professionals. All teachers, especially those individuals who are new in the profession need to receive substantial knowledge on the topic of teaching students who deal with such serious issues. (See also: How to Use Yoga and Meditation to Overcome Depression and Anxiety)
4. Reduce classroom stress
Every teacher should ask themselves an important question: How do I make my students feel during a class? Lately, a lot of studies claim that children or older students who suffer from low self-esteem or who are anxious about their performance in the classroom deal with elevated levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. One of the most obvious side effects of a high level of cortisol in the body is brain fog and lack of focus. So, how can teachers help their students feel more relaxed and self-assured in the classroom environment? One way to make the student feel more at home and relaxed is to get rid of any unnecessary clutter in the classroom. So, it is best to take down visual distractions such as pictures to avoid the classroom space looking too busy. Also, avoiding strict deadlines and instead focusing on more realistic expectations proves to be beneficial when dealing with classroom anxiety. The best thing to do in such a case is to assign homework or other tasks to be completed in a couple of days, instead of demanding it the following day. Another important aspect teachers should practice is genuinely praising students who might be dealing with anxiety or depression. These students might not feel confident in class, so it is always helpful to lend a helping hand or a few words of encouragement.
5. Encourage positive self-talk
Self-talk, in simple terms, is the little voice each one of us has in our heads. For example, after taking an exam, a student might be thinking “Wow, this was easy! Now it’s time to relax!” Unfortunately, a lot of children and older students (even adults) deal with negative self-talk all of the time. Negative self-talk influences mood, behavior. and choices the individual makes, and unfortunately, it always focuses on the worst case scenario. For instance, anxious people tend to be overly critical and pessimistic, and this can also be apparent in the classroom environment. So, what can a teacher do to help students who struggle with negative self-talk? Well, the best thing to do in such a case is to discuss the notion of self-talk with the students and highlight the importance of positivity. One way to do this us to encourage the students to think positive thoughts when dealing with challenging tasks or unfortunate setbacks. Encourage phrases such as “I can do this”, and “I will try my best” to help the students achieve the best possible academic results.
6. Make the group assignments more structured
One of the most common beliefs anxious and depressed students have is that they are not as competent as their peers. Due to this, a lot of young people become withdrawn and refuse to participate in whole class activities, such as projects and presentations. A good way to solve this issue is to have the more problematic students participate in small, but structured activities which make them feel more confident in their abilities. One of the many reasons why this approach is excellent when dealing with issues of this kind is because the number of peers observing the anxious or depressed student is fewer and the student gets to understand all of the instructions. As a result, the problematic student will feel more confident when interacting with others in the classroom.
7. Emphasize the importance of problem-solving strategies
Research shows that one of the reasons why children exhibit bad behavior in class is due to the fact that they do not know how to solve problems successfully. In other words, students tend to react to different life situations by acting out in the classroom. Unfortunately, not a lot of teachers try to reach out to the student to find the underlying cause of the issue, so the behavior probably continues and even gets worse over the course of time. Depression, in particular, can seem like there is no light at the end of the tunnel, so students who face this mental issue do not see solutions to problems. The best thing a teacher can do in such cases is outlining the basic problem-solving strategies and helping students apply them. For example, it is crucial that the student understands the problem in order to solve it. So, teachers should help problematic students find answers to common questions such as “why?” and “how?”. Also, it is extremely important to point out that it is okay to make mistakes and that we are all human. Instead of scolding the student, the best thing a teacher can do is to isolate the error and kindly assist in correcting it.
Above all, it is important to realize that phrases such as “Calm down“ or „Just relax“ do not have a great effect on students who struggle with symptoms of anxiety and depression. The best thing a teacher can do is reach out to the student in a kind manner and offer help.
About The Author:
Emily is a business psychologist with a passion for teaching. Searching, exploring and writing are her favorite things to do. Besides that, she loves animals and traveling.