Exceptional Teacher's Factsheet
Faculty of Education
270-18th Street Brandon Manitoba R7A 6A9
Strategies for Classroom Teachers of Students
with Anxiety Disorder (Generalized)
We all worry about things. We worry about our health, our future, our jobs, our
relationships, and a host of other things, but our worries are different from
someone who has Generalized Anxiety Disorder in two main ways. First, for
most of us, these worries come and go. They don't consume our thoughts
throughout every day. As well, most people may worry about finances, health,
relationships, and our work, but we are less likely to worry about smaller things
like whether we spelled something wrong, or arrived at a meeting a minute late,
or that people won't like us because of the jacket we have on. For someone with
Generalized Anxiety Disorder though, these and other kinds of worries can
become the main topic of thought throughout the day.
It would be nice, in many ways, if we could have control of everything in our lives
– our health, our family, our safety, and so on. We usually recognize, on the
other hand, that these are things that are usually out of our control, and we live
with that. The person with a Generalized Anxiety Disorder cannot cope with that
lack of control as easily, and he/she may be tricked by the kind of fuzzy logic that
says that if you worry about something enough, then you may prevent it from
happening. This can become quite disabling.
These children may be paralyzed by perfectionism and have a hard time handing
something in because it may not be perfect. They may hound you about things
they are worried about, constantly seeking reassurance, and you may find that
no matter what you say, it is not enough to set their minds at ease.
• Abdominal – stomach aches
• Academics – grades and performance dropping
• Anxiety – about situations that would not bother other students
• Anxiety – about things that might happen
• Attendance – missing a lot of school
• Attention – may be impaired
• Breathing – shortness of breath
• Concentration – decreased concentration span
• Fear – generalized
• Fear – of going crazy or losing control
• Muscles – aches or cramps
• Pain – in chest, head, or stomach
• Sleep problems
• Social Skills – may avoid other students and social situations
• Stomach aches
• Thinking – tendency to exaggerate possible negative outcomes
• Thinking – negativity in thinking
• Worrying – excessive worrying
• Worrying – about health, school, disasters, harm to self, or insignificant
*These kinds of symptoms would be considered normal in a child who had just
experienced some kind of trauma or loss such as an accident, health crisis,
divorce, death, or a family move. A diagnosis of Generalized Anxiety Disorder
would be conditional on these symptoms having no apparent external cause, and
on them existing for at least six months.
• The student may be prescribed an anti-anxiety type of drug to cut the
physical symptoms and allow the person to regain a sense of control while
counselling therapies are undertaken.
• The most popular form of talk therapy for Generalized Anxiety Disorder is
cognitive behavioural therapy. Here are the main themes of a cognitive
behavioural approach for this type of student:
o The first line of treatment is to educate the student about anxiety
disorders and how they work.
o One aspect of the therapy is to explore the stressors in the
student's life that may have raised the general stress level to this
point. Working out plans to reduce the stressors will make the
student less vulnerable to anxiety and phobias.
o As well as reducing the stressors, another dimension of this kind of
therapy is to provide the student with skills to deal with the
stressors that exist. This involves exploring the "self-talk" that
occurs in the student's mind as he/she faces the challenges of life.
Some events that are very stressful for some people are actually
enjoyed by others, for example, skydiving, or being at heights. Part
of the reason the student connects a certain stimulus with a stress
response is because he/she has developed a thought pattern of
seeing that stimulus as dangerous or threatening. The therapist's
approach to this would be to reprogram the student's automatic
thought patterns, changing his/her self talk so that he/she could see
the stimulus as non-threatening. The student would also be
trained to recognize irrational worrying thoughts, interrupt them,
and replace them with more rational thoughts. The therapist would
likely spend time with the student rehearsing this response.
o The therapist may also work with the student to unpack some of the
irrational beliefs that he/she may have about the need for perfection
or control in life. This is a major theme in generalized anxiety
disorders. Children feel threatened by not having control. The
therapist would try to help the child understand that control is an
illusion, that no human being has control over life, and that we must
accept this and replace fear with faith about our lives.
o The "behavioural" part of cognitive behavioural therapy involves
retraining the body to respond differently to stressful stimuli. The
body has become programmed to develop anxiety symptoms when
confronted with worries. The therapist may train the student in a
progressive relaxation strategy that would put the body in a relaxed
state and prevent the physical anxiety symptoms from appearing.
The student would be trained in recognizing physical symptoms of
anxiety at their first appearance and dealing with them by
implementing the programmed relaxation strategy (see the section
on Programmed Relaxation Strategy in this book).
• Notify your student support team.
• Meet with the parent(s) and student.
• Refer the student to your school counsellor if you have one. If not, try to
get a referral to an area child/adolescent mental health worker,
psychologist, and/or your regional Anxiety Disorders Association.
• A child who has just received a diagnosis may be experiencing a range of
overwhelming reactions. There may be a significant dimension of shame
or embarrassment and feelings that he/she is "weak" and/or "crazy." It will
be very important to normalize this condition for the student; to let the
student know: first, that this is a very common condition that many people
experience, and secondly, that it is treatable, and a person does not have
to suffer with it indefinitely.
• Avoid stress inducing situations. Communicate with the
student and family about triggers for stress.
• If the student is trained in the programmed relaxation strategy, allow and
encourage him/her to practice it whenever he/she feels tension building in
• If you sense anxiety in the student, ask about what thoughts are creating
the anxiety. You can support the work of the counsellor by cueing the
student to think of a rational thought to replace the worrying thought with.
This can also be a helpful approach if you find that the student is
constantly seeking reassurance from you.
• You may find it helpful to ask a child "what if" kinds of questions when
he/she is expressing a worry. If the child is worried about having an
assignment perfect, in his/her mind, it may seem that having a mistake on
the assignment would make him/her cease to exist. There may be simply
blank terror as the outcome of handing an imperfect assignment in. You
may ask the child to follow through rationally to predict the outcome. Ask,
"If you handed in something with a mistake, what would really happen?
Would you die? Would any of your loved ones die? Would you fail the
grade? Would you fail the course? Would you even fail the assignment?
Let's look at what would really happen and how disastrous it would be."
This can help to interrupt the "catastrophizing" thought pattern that the
student is caught in.
• You may find it helpful to have the child experiment with imperfection by
handing in an assignment with a mistake on it, arriving at class late once,
inviting a friend over, or answering, "I don't know" to a teacher's question.
By being exposed to these situations, the student can see that they don't
cause harm to life or limb.
• Celebrate any successful risk taking that the student is able to do.
• Provide a quiet place for the student to have a depressurizing time out if
he/she feels the need.
• If you notice signs of anxiety in the student, check in with him/her in a
supportive way, reassure, encourage the use of the relaxation strategy,
and remind the student that he/she may go to the quiet space at any time.
• Avoid timed tests and assignments.
• If test anxiety is an issue, consider alternative forms of
• Be flexible on due dates.
• Accommodate late arrivals.
• Monitor homework load.
• Provide notice and briefing of any changes coming up.
Anxiety Disorders Association of America
Anxiety Disorders Association of Canada
Anxiety Disorders Association of Manitoba
Anxiety Disorders Association of Ontario
This factsheet for educators has been prepared in the Faculty of Education at Brandon University
with the contributions of students in our Bachelor of Education program and working teachers in
the field. We hope you find this helpful in your professional practice. To make this a living and
growing resource, we encourage you to send suggestions, comments, and ideas on strategies
you have found effective, or resources you have found helpful to Dr. Cam Symons at
This factsheet is intended to provide information only, not to diagnose or propose specific treatment options. It is not
intended to replace consultation with your student support team and other relevant professionals. While care has been
taken in preparing and assembling the information on this factsheet, Brandon University and its Faculty of Education
make no representations, and do not warrant or guarantee the accuracy completeness, currency or usefulness of any of
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