Dealing with anxiety in school

Ellen’s advice for the start of the school year

Written by Ellen Devlin


There’s no two ways about it, anxiety and school are a terrible combination, or they are for me at least. I’ve struggled massively with anxiety over the last 4 years of my life and it’s always made school a struggle for me. I’m going into Fourth Year now and I feel as if I have a few tips for how to make school even slightly more bearable when all you really want to do is stay in your bedroom and avoid it forever.

Talk about how you feel to a member of staff that you trust

This is definitely the most vital piece of advice I can offer you, it is without a doubt the main reason why I was able to finish the past school year. I found reaching out incredibly difficult, it took me nearly three years to trust someone enough to be honest with them about how I felt. For me, it was a class tutor and my vice principal but for you it could be your favourite teacher or an SNA, it doesn’t matter so long as you let someone else know that you’re not ok. I felt so much shame about my anxiety for so long that all I wanted to do about it was to pretend it didn’t exist. Spoiler alert, that only made my anxiety far worse! I’d hide myself away in school when I felt a panic attack coming on and if anyone witnessed me in full panic mode, I’d never be able to look them in the eye again. If you only take one thing away from this post, I want you to know that if you’re going through a difficult time and you feel embarrassed or ashamed, please, please know that there are people who care around you, even if it feels like there isn’t. There are people who would never judge you or look at you differently because you are feeling down, and you will find them. And personally, I think you’re bloody brilliant and so incredibly brave.

Teachers can be real drama queens

This is something that I learnt the hard way in third year. When my anxiety was at its worst and I was struggling to spend a full day in school, I let my teachers stress me out to the point that just sitting in a classroom was enough to bring on a dreaded panic attack. I’ll let you in on a little secret, exams aren’t the most important thing in the whole world. You know what is more important than exams? Your mental health is. I pushed myself far too hard in third year and I can tell you from personal experience that it’s not worth it. I’m still dealing with the consequences of pushing myself to the limit over two months after the Junior Cert has finished. Put yourself first and everything else second (shouty teachers, parent’s expectations, studying till you nearly fall asleep on your desk). When it comes to your mental health, it’s ok to be selfish

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

I know, easier said than done. Like I said before, it took me three years to get to the point where I actually asked my school for help but it made a huge difference. If I’m being completely honest, unfortunately I encountered some very ignorant people who told me “Drink some green tea and get eight hours sleep and you’ll be grand” or “Just try and be more positive” but I also got really invaluable help from some lovely people which made things a bit easier for me. A lot of days I just wasn’t able to go to every class so I spent a few periods in my vice principal's office to get a bit of headspace. Schools are such busy and noisy places and I found it such a relief to be able to escape the chaos for a little while. Also, many of my teachers were more than happy to help when asked, so give them a chance and they might surprise you.

Always remember, time out is so important and if you just can’t face school today, that’s ok. Try again tomorrow. I also went to see the school counsellor (not the guidance counsellor, there’s a big difference between the two) and decided to do my Junior Cert in separate room to everyone else. This meant that I didn’t have that terrible exam environment that I feared so much and made my exams much more manageable for me. I would highly recommend asking your school about doing your exams in your own centre if like me, the thought of doing your exams in a room filled with other people makes you want to throw up.

It’s ok not to be ok

I know that it’s cheesy, but it’s so true. Everyone goes through tough times in their lives when they feel like complete and utter shite and you’re just going through that time right now. Don’t feel as if you’re broken, or that you’re worthless because you’re not. Be gentle with yourself, you’re doing the best that you can.

I really hope that you’ve taken a few pieces of advice away from this post and that it was of some benefit to you. I’m not exactly jumping for joy at the thought of being back at school this montha but because I learned so much about how best to manage my anxiety in school last year, I have faith this year is going to be different. I hope it’s a good year for you too.

Our work is supported by