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When Is School Refusal More Than Back-to-School Anxiety?

Press Release

The start of a new school year can be stressful for a variety of reasons. There are social pressures, a pressure to perform, and a million other what ifs? that spiral through a teen’s mind that can lead to back-to-school anxiety. Sometimes, though, it can go beyond your typical case of teen school anxiety and develop into a more serious case of school refusal that goes beyond normal levels of anxiety.

Below, we’ll be addressing common school anxiety symptoms and causes, as well as what to be on the look out for to determine if the issue is more serious.

Common Causes of Back-to-School Anxiety

There are plenty of factors that can cause back-to-school anxiety, but some of the most common include:

School anxiety disorder can largely be treated through parent intervention. Talk through your teen’s school-related fears so that you can get to the bottom of it. Justify their feelings, and work with them to create coping strategies and build confidence.

What Is “School Refusal” and What Are Its Causes?

Teen school anxiety, however, can sometimes escalate into school refusal. School refusal is just as it sounds – when a child or adolescent refuses to go to school, especially over an extended period. While school refusal may at first glance appear to be one of the common school anxiety symptoms, there is a heightened connection between anxiety and school that increases the severity of the situation.

Children and teens will often avoid school through experiencing physical symptoms that are all too real in the moment, but that quickly clear up once allowed to stay home. They will also frequent trips to the nurse’s office and end up leaving school part way through the day. Those showing signs of school refusal will likely also be battling with a scope of anxious thoughts and emotions.

School refusal can be caused by the same causes of back-to-school anxiety listed above, in addition to other outside factors. For instance, a child or teen may be worried about a parent, or be seeking attention from specific sources.

“Normal” Back-to-School Anxiety vs Larger Mental Health Issues

It is perfectly normal for teens to experience back-to-school anxiety, but when does the crossover into school refusal indicate there may be a larger anxiety disorder at play?

If signs of intense anxiety or school refusal are persistent, there’s a decent chance that your teen may be suffering from a more serious mental health issue, particularly an anxiety disorder. Approximately 9% of people develop generalized anxiety disorder over the course of their lifetime, and teens can be particularly susceptible to the development of severe anxiety.

Those that have a larger anxiety disorder at play typically display symptoms of anxiety for longer durations than those just experiencing a quick bout of teen school anxiety. These anxious feelings tend to constantly persist and are accompanied by mood, personality, and even physical changes.

How Parents Can Tell Between Normal Anxiety and More Serious Cases

So, how are you supposed to tell between what are normal levels of teen school anxiety and what may indicate a more serious anxiety disorder? Listed below are some common anxiety symptoms to be on the lookout for.

  • Look for emotional changes. Does your teen seem generally on-edge or restless? Displaying irritability and sudden mood swings can also be an indication of deep-seeded anxiety.
  • Also keep an eye out for physical changes. While those exhibiting school refusal often complain of physical illness and discomfort, these symptoms quickly dissipate when allowed to stay home. Those with general anxiety may experience these feelings continually.
  • Along with this can be a general change in diet and routine. Your teen may be experiencing fatigue from lack of proper sleep and nutrition.
  • More on sleep – Common signs of anxiety disorder pertaining to sleep include difficulty falling. asleep/waking up, not feeling refreshed after sleep, and the occurrence of frequent nightmares.
  • Be on the look out for social changes. If your teen was once at least relatively socially active but begins to isolate themselves, this is a sign of developing anxiety. Note if they are no longer hanging out with their known friends, are avoiding extracurricular activities, or are generally spending increased time alone.
  • Change in school performance is yet another symptom. School performance typically becomes poor, with the teen’s grades significantly dropping. They may be feeling overwhelmed by school and frequently procrastinate on or miss assignments.
  • Also look for signs of panic attacks. These can include sudden dizzy spells, difficulty breathing, chest pain, numbness, and trembling.

How to Get Help/Treatment for Your Teen Suffering from School-Related Anxiety

When your teen first shows signs of school anxiety and school refusal, the most important thing that you as a parent can do is talk and listen. Identify their fears, and work through them practically.

Just stating them out loud can make a situation less scary and more manageable. Then, come up with coping strategies and behavior methods that will make these situations less intimidating.

If anxiety continues to persist, however, you should seek outside help. You should communicate with your teen’s teachers, as well as reach out to the school counselor. An outside therapist may also be necessary.

Good methods of treatment include cognitive behavioral therapy, which teaches skills and practices to overcome negative thoughts and fears. Therapy sessions tend to be most effective when teens have a combination of solo and family sessions.

Medication may also be recommended for a time to help control any chemical imbalances that lead to fear and overwhelming feelings of anxiety.

How Houston Behavioral Healthcare Hospital Can Help

Houston Behavioral Healthcare Hospital is an organization that specializes in mental health treatments for adolescents. We work with our patients to come up with the best strategies and solutions for them, so that they can go on leading a happy and healthy life.

If you or your child is suffering from back-to-school anxiety that has been taken too far, don’t hesitate to contact us via our website, or call us at (832) 834-7710.