Don’t fence me in

This week at the Carrot Ranch Charli Mills is talking about anxiety, panic attacks and agoraphobia.

The following statements taken from the Mayo Clinic website explain agoraphobia as:

“a type of anxiety disorder in which you fear and often avoid places or situations that might cause you to panic and make you feel trapped, helpless or embarrassed.”

“The anxiety is caused by fear that there’s no easy way to escape or seek help if intense anxiety develops.”

“Most people who have agoraphobia develop it after having one or more panic attacks, causing them to fear another attack and avoid the place where it occurred.”

“Agoraphobia treatment can be challenging because it usually means confronting your fears.

Sometimes, as Charli says, we can face our fears head on and defeat them with the choices we make. Other times we may need support to help us overcome them. Sometimes therapy and medication may be needed to help those suffering the debilitating effects of anxiety. I will not be discussing those paths in this post. Nor am I going to talk about the anxieties of children with Asperger’s or Autism. There are others who do a much better job of it and are much more knowledgeable than I, such as Sherri Matthews and Shawna Ainslie.

school cropped

However, it is not uncommon for a child to occasionally feel anxious and stressed by situations that occur at school. The incidence increases when children are placed in situations that are inappropriate to their development and don’t respect their needs. Sometimes the anxiety and stress is manageable and alleviated by more appropriate circumstances outside of the school environment. But sometimes the distress to the child and family can increase to a level at which more help and support is required.

A school environment more suited to children’s needs would reduce the number of anxious and stressed students, parents, and teachers. Creating a nurturing and supportive school environment requires a firm understanding of child development and a belief in their ability to learn. It also requires that children are respected and appreciated for who they are, and that they receive timely and appropriate feedback, encouragement, and support.

last child in the woods

 

In recent posts I have mentioned the importance of play, and of time spent in, and learning outdoors, in nature. In his book Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv espouses the importance of nature to the development of healthy children, as well as to the physical health and well-being of adults. Perhaps more time in nature would provide the calm that is needed to combat the hustle and bustle of modern life and pressures of formal, test-driven classrooms.

In fact, it is not just “perhaps”. In his article The School of Nature Louv provides evidence of benefits to learning that nature-based and place-based education can bring. He says, “greening schools may be one of the most cost-effective ways to raise student test scores.

earth in mind

David Orr agrees. In his book Earth in Mind: On Education, Environment and the Human Prospect, he also stresses the importance of learning about, from, and in nature.  He says, that, “all education is environmental education. By what is included or excluded we teach students that they are part of or apart from the natural world.”

It is easy to talk about the failings of the school system and suggest ways it could be improved. It is more difficult to make the desired changes happen. While the majority of teachers work hard to create warm, supportive, nurturing environments for children, there are many situations over which they have no control. It is important then to have strategies for dealing with anxiety and stress if they occur.

stress can really get on your nerves

I recently came across a book that may be useful if your child tends towards anxiety.  Stress Can Really Get on Your Nerves aims to provide children with strategies for coping with stress. Written by Trevor Romain and Elizabeth Verdick, it is published by free spirit Publishing as one of a series aimed at helping 8 – 13 year-olds “get through life rough spots”. With Trevor’s fun, cartoon-like illustrations on every page, the book promises to turn stressed out kids into “panic mechanics” with a toolkit of suggestions for reducing their own stress levels. I’d have to say, they’re not bad strategies for anyone’s toolkit.

I first heard about the book on the free spirit publishing blog in a post by Trevor in which he explains how drawing helped him cope with his learning difference. Trevor may be an outlier, but his story certainly provides inspiration for those who struggle in the traditional classroom.

cropped forest

I think time outdoors, breathing the fresh air, and enjoying the natural world is a great antidote to stress. I may no longer gambol in the grass, but I can sit in stillness and quiet, appreciating the beauty around me as I unplug from technology and reconnect by grounding myself in nature. I’m not sure how that works for agoraphobics with a fear of open places though. Perhaps having more time in nature as a child and learning techniques for coping with anxiety and stress could work as a preventative. But it’s only a thought. I am no expert.

This brings me back to Charli Mills and her flash fiction prompt to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a response to an agoraphobic moment.  I have used the Mayo Clinic’s broader interpretation rather than the “narrow” definition of “fear of open spaces”. (I’d rather not be fenced in!) I hope my story portrays a recognisable response that could occur in a variety of circumstances. Please let me know what situation you think of as you read, and whether you consider my attempt successful.

Confrontation

She could hardly manage to chew, let alone swallow, the morsel of cereal occupying her mouth.

Her vacant stare and stifled moans alerted him.

“Are you okay?”

“I’m trying,” she mumbled, and squeezed her hands between her quivering knees.

“You’ll be fine. You haven’t had an attack for months. And, you’re prepared.”

“I know.” She pressed her arms against her gurgling belly. “But …”

He waited.

Finally, she looked at him. “But …”

He sponged her clammy forehead.

She looked away. “What if they don’t like me?”

“They won’t like you. They’ll love you. Come on. I’ll take you.”

What did you think of as you read? I wrote the piece about young teacher about to meet her first class. Did you pick it?

While anxiety about school is more commonly thought of as presenting in children, it is not uncommon for teachers to suffer from school anxiety as well. We accept that teaching is a stressful role, but for some it can also cause anxiety.

I think there are few who are immune from anxiety. We need to be more open in talking about mental health in general. Recognition, acknowledgment and supportive discussion are important factors in helping to overcome the effects of anxiety.

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

42 thoughts on “Don’t fence me in

  1. Bec

    I did pick it! Great FF & there are so many great links & resources in this post. I often wonder about teachers having ‘nerves’ – as it’s essentially constant performance. I used to be nervous before tutoring at uni, and would think about how teachers had to just get used to it and do it every day. I guess having done so many hours of tutoring at uni now I no longer get the nerves, so I guess it must be easier for teachers with time, too. Does a new classroom or school for an experienced teacher cause the same nerves a new teacher would have with their first class?

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    1. Norah Post author

      I could say you know me too well! The constant performance does become less anxiety-producing over time, but some teachers can become nervous when others come into their classroom to help out or view their work. They feel they are constantly being watched and judged. There are not many professions which are so visible to others. Most people go to work and do their work in more-or-less privacy. Teachers are exposed to the world. Nurses are too, I guess. And everybody is a critic. I think I overcame my nerves pretty well. As I became confident with what I was doing and didn’t expect perfection of myself, I thought they (anyone visiting) could take it or leave it. I was definitely against trying to put on a show to impress. If what I did for the children on a daily basis was good enough for them, it was good enough for anybody. 🙂

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  2. Sarah Brentyn

    I prefer that definition. Since so many think agoraphobia is fear of open spaces when it really deals with more than that. So much I could say about that (and anxiety in general) but it would be longer than your post! I completely agree about nature for kids but also for adults, unpluging and grounding themselves, like you said. I love walks and just sitting outside for that reason.

    I didn’t get that your flash was a teacher but can see that.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks, Sarah. Anxiety is definitely a subject worthy of exploration. I’m happy to hear your perspective whenever the time is right for you to share.
      I love being outside (in the shade) too. I don’t do it nearly often enough.
      Thanks for sharing.

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      1. Sarah Brentyn

        It’s another huge topic! You’ve hit two in a row. 🙂 I’d love to sit outside (in the shade) with you and chat. Leaving electronics at home.

        Let’s just say by the end of the day yesterday I felt like a human nesting doll. !!!

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        1. Norah Post author

          I would love that chat too. I think we’d have plenty to talk about.
          I’m so sorry to hear you are feeling so badly. I hope you can put yourself together again real soon – don’t lose any of those special and important parts! xx

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  3. julespaige

    What comes to mind after reading your flash…is the first time we see a beloved or really any teacher out of the school environment. “You mean teachers are people too!” 🙂
    Cheers, Jues

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  4. stuckinscared

    Interesting post, Norah. I didn’t pick it, I (as seems the case with many other readers) thought your flash was describing a child’s anxiety.
    I related to the thoughts/feelings described in the flash… actually, as I have to be in a room full of people I (mostly) don’t know tomorrow for my daughters Baby-Shower, I’ve been experiencing such anxiety all day today, and have no doubt that it will have increased by morning. … “I’m trying” stuck out for me as I read the flash… something I often say, to myself and to others.

    Ordinarily I would have more to add on this post, but, as you’ve probably guessed given my recent absence online, I haven’t been well this past month or so and I’m (though better than I was) still struggling. I’m baby-stepping my way back into the wonderful-world-of-blogging ATM, and can’t think of a better place than here to attempt sense-making in more than 140 characters 😉

    I may come back to this. I have thoughts on Littlie’s anxiety that might interest you, but for now… Thank you for sharing, I hope you are well, Kimmie. x

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you, Kimmie. I have been wondering about you and meaning to pop over to see if I had been missing notification of your posts, but things have been a bit hectic for me and I start on my way and get distracted by something else. Apologies.
      Your daughter’s baby shower! That sounds exciting! i understand that it could also be terrifying though. I hope it wasn’t too difficult for you and that you were able to get there and enjoy it.Sometimes it doesn’t matter how hard we try, we just can’t seem to do it, can we?
      I’m sorry you haven’t been well, and hope that you are on the road to recovery. Baby-stepping is a great way to go. You need to make sure you’re well for daughter’s baby! 🙂
      I look forward to your future shares, here or on your blog. I hope both you and Littlie are doing okay.
      Thanks for reading and commenting. Hugs.

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  5. jennypellett

    Ah, we’ve already talked this week about being stuck in a confined space! How timely is this post.
    Anxiety in children and young people is on the rise and I think we can only blame the government for too much pressure and too much expectation to perform in academic subjects. Out kids have to jump through so many hoops theses days just to keep their heads above the metaphorical parapet. No wonder the waiting lists for out mental health services have reached crisis point. Sorry for the doom and gloom…if I want to rant I’ll do it over at mine 😉

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you for reading and commenting, Jenny. Yes our posts were very well timed, as if planned.I agree with what you are saying about too much pressure and expectations too high for our young students.
      You are always welcome to have an educational rant here. I am not averse to that. Of course, I’m happy to pop over to yours and read it too!

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  6. Sherri

    Ahh Norah, I thought your flash was about an anxious child facing a new school, but I love that it was actually about a teacher, and goodness, that is a great perspective. Anxiety crosses the board! Thank you for linking to my blog. You’ll see my frame of mind on this one in Charli’s compilation (excuse the swear word, it is what I would have liked to have said on more than one occasion..ha, the beauty of fiction 😉 Not so much open spaces, but my daughter’s fear of a room filled with people, staring at her. What wonderful books you share here, one and all: I’ve heard of Last Child in the Woods, and the last book for children looks to be a marvellous resource. Oh I get a tight stomach just thinking of those days trying to get my daughter to school… One thing I will say though, I’m eternally grateful for the wonderfully nurturing, caring and safe environment all three of my children received during their elementary school years in California. Those early years of such positive intervention can never be underestimated, as you express so eloquently here. Wonderful post and flash Norah, fantastic educational resources as always 🙂

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    1. Norah Post author

      Ah, yes. Most have thought my flash was about an anxious child. That’s to be expected. Most of my pieces are about children, aren’t they?
      I hope a few readers click through to your post. It is very enlightening. It helps those of us without the first hand experience to get an inkling of what life is like for individuals on the spectrum and their families. Sharing is so important to developing that understanding from which empathy and compassion can develop.
      I know that now is not the time but, sometime, I would like to hear about your children’s Californian education. You have mentioned it a few times. I love hearing, particularly good, educational stories.
      Thank you for you kind supportive words, Sherri. I appreciate your comment.

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      1. Sherri

        Thank you again Norah. And again, I loved the twist in your flash. Teachers don’t have it easy either, as you well know! Yes, I won’t forget about that. Sorry to take so long to do everything, always straggling… thank you for your patience!

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  7. Charli Mills

    A-ha! I was thinking a student at a new school , but yes, a teacher would feel anxious too. You are so right, we all feel anxious at one time of another. What’s important is to not let it become debilitating. I like that idea of a toolkit for coping. It’s interesting that nature can typically be so grounding yet it can be too open and expansive for others. I have a friend in Minneapolis who grew up in cities and I took her with me on a writing assignment to the country. Serious, she’d never been to the country before! She said, “How can people stand to live and not see another house next door?” It made her anxious. We have to respect and support one another no matter how odd someone’s anxiety might seem.

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    1. Norah Post author

      It is true. I’m sure we’ve talked about this before. Comfort in the comfort (familiar) zone, and anxiety in stepping out of it. I guess that’s why it’s important to experience as many things as possible. I think my comfort zone is tiny in comparison with that of many others. There is much that can cause me anxiety. You words of advice “to respect and support one another no mater how odd someone’s anxiety might seem” are good ones to remember. Thank you for reading and sharing.

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  8. Steven

    Unfortunately I didn’t pick it, but very clever Norah. You introduced a subject that was mostly aimed at its effects on children… and then you turned it all around to show how it applies for the adult teachers as well.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Steven. I guess if I was true to form I would have been writing from the child’s point of view! A little surprise now and then doesn’t hurt! 🙂

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  9. Sacha Black

    In 100% agreement with you on th point about kids in nature. I used to spend all day every day outside and kids these day don’t they are stuck in front of computer screens – god that makes me sound old! 😂

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  10. macjam47

    An interesting post, Norah. I can relate to children being anxious that first day of school? What if their friends aren’t in their class? What if they don’t like the teacher? What if the teacher doesn’t like them? What if the classwork is too difficult? What if the teacher calls on me to stand up and answer a question? There are so many if’s for children. I loved your flash, because of all the teachers I have known, and from years of volunteering, I don’t remember ever meeting a teacher who suffering anxiety over the first day. Stressed, yes. Do I have everything ready, etc. Hugs, my friend.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks so much for your comment, Michelle. Those are indeed anxious thoughts experienced by many children. I can’t say I’ve met a teacher who suffered anxiety to the extent I described, but it is possible. I think, since they had a choice, they probably just called in sick, or gave teaching away before it became too distressing.
      Thanks for your support. Have a good week. Hugs back.

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  11. jeanne229

    Great post. Having been a teacher, I can relate to the fear and panic. I’ve had experience with a close family member too and panic attacks. While having an attack, he could not bear to have me touch him or get too near. I didn’t get that your protagonist was a teacher either. The last line made me think “she” was a performer of some sort. But you captured the anxiety!

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you for adding your voice to the conversation, Jeanne. I’m sorry to hear about your relative who suffered panic attacks. They are not pretty things to experience, and it’s difficult to know how to help.
      Interesting that you thought the protagonist must be a performer of some sort. I’ve always said that we teachers are putting on a performance! I have never felt that much anxiety facing my classes of young children. I don’t know how I’d cope if I knew I had to teach high school though.

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      1. jeanne229

        That’s exactly what I felt like as a teacher. I was performing…and I grew to love it. I taught foreign adult students for about 18 years all told. One thing I did the first day was make a game out of remembering their names by the end of class. It helped me have fun with them and names being so integral to a person, I think it created at least a small but immediate bond. It also made me focus more on the students than on myself 🙂

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        1. Norah Post author

          That’s a great strategy, Jeanne. When you make an effort to learn and use someone’s name, it makes them feel valued, worthy of the effort. I always made sure I knew the names of children in my new classes by morning tea time. I had many strategies in place to help me with that, but the effort was definitely worth while. I’m sure it helped keep my brain cells alive for a little while too. 🙂

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  12. Annecdotist

    I love that song Don’t Fence Me In – thanks for the reminder, and can certainly identify with the sentiment. A great flash, but I didn’t get that it was a teacher, so I enjoyed the twist – I think it must be really scary for new or even experienced teachers, especially with a roomful of teenagers.
    I’ve just finished reading a novel about a child with diabetes – review next week – there’s certainly a whole satchel full of anxieties to deal with, but unfortunately the headteacher in this one doesn’t manage to rise so well to the challenge. Obviously she needed these resources you mention here.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks, Anne. I’m pleased you enjoyed the song. I hadn’t thought of a title for the post, and was about to publish when I started (out of nowhere) “singing” the song to myself. I always loved it, and realised it was a perfect fit for the post.
      I would definitely not like to face a class of teenagers. That would be horrific to me. I love my six year olds.
      I look forward to the review of the novel about a child with diabetes. It’s a dreadful disease. A colleague of mine was diagnosed at 9 months. I knew her for only a few years before she passed in her early forties. She had a wonderful attitude, but it was a debilitating disease. Unfortunately we teachers are not always equipped to cope with the variety of things that are sent our way. I know I certainly wasn’t. I hope the headteacher didn’t do too badly. Thanks for your comment.

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      1. Annecdotist

        The title fits perfectly for your post. Yes, there’s so much expected of teachers but realistically you can’t know everything. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that in this case the headteacher was overly punitive when the child misbehaved, probably due to her fluctuating insulin levels. The novel is called How to Be Brave and I’m going to pair it with Everyone Brave Is Forgiven which I’m currently reading – I mention it here because that features a wonderful teacher. She is untrained but has a natural flair. Like all the inspiring teachers I read about, she reminds me of you!

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        1. Norah Post author

          I think I’d like to read both those books. Thank you for my personal mini-reviews. I wish I had (made) more time for reading! Thank you for your kind words too. I’m not sure that I’d meet your mark in reality. I’d do my best though.

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  13. Lisa Reiter

    That’s a clever piece of flash Norah. The thought of facing a class full of kids would give me a panic attack and I think it’s then important to remember that anxieties can be contextual! (But I could sack someone without breaking step! Sorry! Poor joke but I’ve had enough practice) That should help us understand that it’s partly our internal interpretation of a situation that causes the anxiety and you offer up some great resources for people to help teach kids the skills of managing our thoughts. Unfortunately not all parents or teachers have great personal resource to draw on having not been taught themselves and we can all benefit from adding to our ‘self-management’ toolkit.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you for you insightful comment, Lisa. I think many, minor anxieties, and possibly some major ones, are partly due to our internal interpretation as you say. However I didn’t want to diminish the debilitating effects suffered by some for whom far more seems to be involved. Being told that all of our responses are always a choice seems harsh and lacking in compassion. I know I could do with packing a few more tools into my toolbox. I do try at times but more often than not there appears to be a hole at the bottom of the toolbox. Either that, or I keep misplacing them! I appreciate your words of encouragement and support.

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      1. Annecdotist

        Ha, this might be a debate between different schools of psychology. Certainly there are strategies we can use to reduce our fears that, from the perspective of attachment theory which is consistent with my own experience, if you haven’t been given that safe place as a baby, or perhaps the other neurological reasons you can’t locate it, those strategies aren’t a lot of use.

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