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How to Reduce Anxiety for SEN Students

How to reduce anxiety blog

All students feel some anxiety while at school. It's a normal part of the education process, but some for students it can be constant, and it can be overwhelming. Moving to secondary stage education can be hard, being in a completely new environment with new sounds, new experiences and new people to meet. This can be a lot for students to cope with. And this is all before we even think about exams and assessments, the cause of much stress for students.

The expectations for students to do well in their exams is immense, with pressure placed upon them by both their teacher and their parents. For many this is their first real glimpse of the adult world where test results begin to really matter. Understandably this can terrify them. For some students it can be too much. They can suffer from exam nerves and anxiety constantly at school. But this anxiety can be even worse for SEN Students.


What causes anxiety in SEN students?

There are many causes of additional anxiety causes for SEN students, including:

  • SEN Students may have more difficulties with their learning and progress compared to other students, leaving them to feel frustrated and anxious.
  • Socially they may struggle to fit in with other students leaving them to feel lonely. Due to this they may draw attention to themselves in class, misbehaving in their attempt to stand out and connect with the other students.
  • Bullying can be a major cause of anxiety for SEN students as well; the YoungMinds website may help when planning how to help your child. Students are bullied for a multitude of reasons or no reason at all. As mentioned before, SEN students can sometimes struggle socially which can lead to bullying. Falling behind in their education can also sometimes lead to bullying. Both reasons can often lead to increased anxiety.

For some students the anxiety can lead to them not wanting to go to school at all. They might find ways to not attend such as faking sickness, throwing tantrums when forced to go and acting more aggressively. Anxiety can badly affect how students learn, causing them to fall further and further behind if no action is taken.

However, there are ways to help them with their anxiety, whatever the cause.

Explaining Anxiety to Students

Firstly, you should teach your students what anxiety is. The NHS describes Anxiety as: ‘a feeling of unease, like a worry or fear, that can be mild or severe. Everyone feels anxious from time to time, and it usually passes once the situation is over.'

Anxiety is a reaction to perceived threats. It is a primal response based on the fight or flight system. For example, as a human being, how would you react to encountering a wild animal? Try to fight it or to flee?

What are the signs of anxiety?

There are many physical signs that somebody is anxious. Most people will experience some of these but not all, it varies on the person and how anxious they feel.

  • They may feel their heartrate increase.
  • Their hands may get clammy and sweaty, they may notice themselves sweating more than usual in other places and feel hot.
  • They may have a stomach-ache, or feelings of ‘butterflies.' This is quite common when people are expected to speak in public, such as before a presentation or reading something out loud in class.
  • They may begin to get a headache or feel sick.
  • Dizziness is common for people who suffer with elevated anxiety.
  • Their breathing may increase with fast intakes of breath.
  • They may have a general feeling of restlessness with them struggling to concentrate on one task and constantly fidgeting or walking around.


Credit: Back to school anxiety by Michigan Health

What can we do to help students with anxiety?

Support SEN students by tailoring the work to their needs.

SEN Students can often feel stressed when they are expected to learn at the same pace as other students with no additional help. It can lead to frustration and anxiety as they feel overwhelmed with their assigned work.

If possible, give them work that you feel is at their level of learning, this will reduce their anxiety about falling behind. But this may not always be possible in every situation. Ensure they don't fall behind by getting a special needs assistant to help them in lessons. They can help to keep the student focused and learning optimally. Moreover, they can help the student to organise their time both in school and out of school, ensuring their homework is done on time and as they revise for their exams.

Reward well-behaved students

When the student is behaving and paying attention, make sure the behaviour is rewarded. Instead of school being a place of anxiety, make it a place of happiness and contentment. You could use a star chart to rewards pupils, with each set of stars leading to a bigger reward. Discuss rewards with the student to identify the key individual motivators.

Also, when giving verbal praise, make a point of it. Make sure they understand that this is a big deal and a recognition of achievement.

Be consistent with teaching practices

Consistency is important for SEN students. Some individuals have trouble understanding social cues or instructions, so it is important to be consistent in your approach towards them. They learn best in a set routine and any deviation from this may make them anxious or stressed. If you must change the learning routine, make sure the reasons are clearly explained and when you expect to return to the previous learning routine.

Seek treatment for anxiety

There are some ways anxiety can be treated. The treatment may depend on the students age and the cause of their anxiety. You can find more information on Anxiety in children here.

Counselling for anxiety

Counselling can be a useful way of helping the student to understand their anxiety and work their way through it by talking to a counsellor about it, how they feel and when it started. Through this process they will start to feel better about their anxiety.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a talking therapy which helps to reframe thoughts. Through this student can explore their anxiety, identifying and question the causes of their anxiety. You can have this service provided by the NHS or some schools provide it themselves.

Medicine to treat anxiety

There are a variety of different medicines which can help to treat anxiety. Lorazepam and Propranolol are two widely used medicines to treat anxiety. In children most doctors would start with therapy and counselling before moving onto medicines, but this could be affected by the severity of the anxiety. To find out more make an appointment to talk to your local GP who will recommend the best course of treatment.

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