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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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 …”
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 for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.