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Most students are resilient most of the time, and their anxiety is short-lived. It’s not unusual for students to feel nervous at school when they’re stretched to do something new and unfamiliar. In fact, some anxiety in these situations can be adaptive—that is, it can actually help students be better prepared and perform better. 

But if anxiety becomes too intense, out of proportion to the situation, or long-lasting, it can have a negative impact on students’ well-being and their ability to learn.

Signs that anxiety may be a problem include the following:

  • frequent absences or requests to go home
  • long-lasting difficulty with morning separation
  • social issues (e.g., extreme shyness)
  • difficulty speaking in groups or in class
  • persistent and repeated reassurance seeking
  • refusal to engage in tasks
  • avoidance of certain places, situations or people
  • mismatch between ability and academic performance
  • persistent social and relational struggles
  • recurring physical symptoms without medical explanation
  • withdrawal from previously enjoyed activities

Everyday anxiety or problem anxiety?

The following examples of students exhibiting different anxiety-related behaviours illustrate everyday and problem anxiety. Click on the names below, then click on the student portraits to find out more.

Nicholas and Sam

Cali and Amir

Raven and Hope

When does everyday anxiety become a disorder?

We all experience anxiety—and sometimes we experience it more than others. But anxiety that persistently interferes with daily functioning, impairs relationships and gets in the way of achieving goals could be a sign of a disorder. When assessing a child’s anxiety, mental health professionals consider:

  • Distress—How intense is the child’s reaction? For example, having occasional stomach aches versus persistent stomach aches.
  • Disruption—How much does the anxiety interfere with daily functioning? Does the child participate in age-appropriate activities, keep up in school, go to birthday parties and play with friends—or avoid activities because of worry?
  • Duration—How long have the symptoms lasted? Depending on the disorder, symptoms that persist for one to six months could be considered problematic.
  • Developmental stage—Does a worry or fear linger beyond what is typical for the child’s age, appear in the wrong developmental stage, or persist past its expected lifespan?
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