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5 Back-to-School Tips for Students Who Experience Panic Attacks

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For those dealing with chronic anxiety and panic attacks, going back to school can mean going back to a dreaded torture chamber. The following advice and tips are for students who are scared to death of nearly everything, who must sometimes flee the classroom in panic, who struggle academically because of their panicky feelings and who sometimes can’t even make the trip to school.

1. Use times of heightened anxiety to your advantage by studying hard as a diversion.

I developed many coping strategies for episodes of chronic panic attacks and elevated fears throughout my school career: in grade school, high school, college and even graduate school. My graduate school anxiety phase was one of the worst of my life to that point, partly because the Vietnam War was trying to recruit me. I was never much of a scholar, but got nearly straight A’s during those 18 months.

2. Talk with both your school nurse and school counselor about your feelings of panic.

If you are high school age or younger and having difficulty because of panicky feelings, then I especially advise this. These are people who know all about panic attacks and anxiety and are there to help students overcome any kind of health or emotional issue they might have. If you are missing a lot of classes, are late a lot, can’t sit in the middle of the room or can’t focus enough to study, then they can help you with all your needs in order to stay in school and succeed. Ask a parent to help if needed. The school counselor should be able to provide you with some counseling and help you solve transportation problems you may be having.

Don’t feel like a freak because of your needs. Schools provide special services for students all the time, including being able to do some of their work at home. You should also have an understanding with teachers that allows you to sit near a door and walk out without notice.

3. Practice mindfulness.

I actually became a good student during times of excessive fearfulness. Paying close attention in class, writing detailed notes and carefully reading everything were diversions from my fearful thoughts. Paying close attention to what a teacher is saying and taking careful notes will help you stay cool. Doing so is a form of mindfulnesss, meaning focusing all your attention on the present moment or task. If what is happening in class isn’t enough to keep you focused and calm, then keep your journal handy so you can begin drawing, writing about the day or working on an essay or poem. Do anything that takes your thought process away from you.

4. Transition from class to class under the best possible circumstances.

If going from one class to another is a problem, timing is key. If being with a crowd moving to another class helps, then you’ll want to leave as soon as the bell rings. If large crowds raise your heartbeat, then stay and write for awhile before going to your next. I always tried to find someone to walk to class with when my anxiety was highest. If social media is a good diversion, then use it as allowed. Check in with the school counselor as often as possible so you can be assured of continued support during hard times.

5. Get involved in school activities.

This allows you to have people to talk with and activities to engage in. Of all the “clubs” I tried in school, the drama or theater clubs proved the most interesting and were the most fun. The advantage of working with theater is there are so many skill levels required to put on a production. Carpentry, painting, sewing, doing hair and makeup and publicity are all behind the scenes jobs that can help you with your recovery process. Working in a group allows you to show your talents, which will increase your confidence and happiness.

If you’re in college or other post high school studies, then your school will likely have a counseling office within student health services that you can approach about help with your recovery. You may be able to find support at student health services, or find a student therapy group for panic disorder. I hope you continue all this while also working on a recovery plan so one day anxiety won’t rule you.

For more advice, check out my blog.

Image via Thinkstock.


Originally published: August 30, 2016
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