School and Teen Anxiety: FAQs

School and Teen Anxiety

Teenagers have always had a complex emotional relationship with school, from the demands placed on them to perform well to the social interactions and hormonal swings that complicate adolescence.

Some students may develop anxiety over these various factors, while others struggle in school due to pre-existing anxiety.
As a parent, you need to understand how these interactions and influences impact your teen’s academic performance and mental health, along with the steps you can take to improve your teen’s overall quality of life. Study up on this topic by examining the answers to these frequently asked questions about school and teen anxiety.

How Do School Pressures Cause or Aggravate Teen Anxiety?

In many ways, school serves as a kind of social pressure cooker or incubator, bringing teens into close contact with the stresses of adulthood for the first time.

28 percent of teenagers report feeling pressure to fit into this environment, while approximately the same percentage feel pressure related to their looks.
Pressure to succeed in schoolwork causes even widespread anxiety, with 61 percent of teens complaining of this kind of stress. Some teens may develop a specific issue called test anxiety. This problem causes them to freeze up in exams and other high-stress situations (or even skip those situations entirely).

How Do Anxiety Disorders Affect Academic Performance?

Whether teenagers develop an anxiety disorder related to school life or bring an underlying anxiety disorder to school with them, that anxiety can cause a significant decline in their academic performance.

Perhaps most obviously, test anxiety may cause teens to struggle with low grades despite their firm grasp on the subjects.

Mental disengagement can create academic problems for anxious teens. Their particular anxiety triggers may cause them to disengage from teachers, lessons, and classmates in a manner that interferes with their ability to absorb or retain new information, resulting in reduced or inconsistent performance.
The switch to remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic may have reduced some of these triggers while introducing others, depriving teens of the enjoyable side of social interaction. In fact, more students who took remote classes full-time reported anxiety symptoms than those who attended school in person.
In some cases, anxiety disorders can produce wellness issues that affect school performance. For example, a teen who regularly experiences insomnia or fails to eat properly due to anxiety may find it difficult to think clearly or remember what they’ve already learned in their studies.

When Should You Seek Evaluation and Treatment for Your Teen Student?

Teens who suffer from school-related anxiety may display trouble signs that they never showed in the past.

This can include reporting late for class, skipping certain classes, and conflicts with teachers or classmates. They may even seem to lose all interest in extracurricular activities that they once considered fun.
You may also recognize signs of school-based anxiety in the home, whether your teen experiences that anxiety during home learning or brings it home from school. Watch for physical symptoms such as nausea, headaches, fatigue, and a tendency to get sick regularly (which gives them a reason to neglect or avoid school).
Behavioral changes may also indicate a case of school-related anxiety, especially during the hectic back-to-school season.

Look for possible trouble signs such as:
  • Mood swings
  • Substance abuse
  • Unexplained avoidance of certain people or places
  • Changes in eating habits (including loss of appetite).

About the Author

Dina Nunziato, PhD

Chief Clinical Officer

Dina has spent nearly two decades working with young adults in various clinical and educational settings. Dina specializes in cognitive behavioral treatment of anxiety and related disorders. Her research and publications include the use of evidenced-based mindfulness techniques to support anxiety management, academic success, and emotional wellbeing.

“My personal knowledge and experience of anxiety and fear, as a victim and as a conqueror, has gifted me the valuable asset of emotional intelligence. Knowledge and experience that will give me the empathy to connect with others and the grit to overcome adversity.”

Dr. Daniel Villiers

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