Learning Disabilities and ADHD Articles

Is Anxiety Contagious?

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Written by:
Karen MacMillan
Executive Co-Director
May 1, 2015

Sometimes adults can share and/or increase the anxieties of the young people in our lives without even realizing it. For example, we do this by:

  • Modelling anxious thoughts and behaviours.
  • Sharing worries through frequent conversations (even if they are meant to reassure) around exams and studying.
  • Communicating unrealistic expectations. – appropriately high expectations are a good thing – but they must be based in the reality of what the young person’s specific abilities are. Unrealistic expectations (from the young person and/or those around them) are one of the best predictors of test anxiety.

By checking our own anxiety, we can decrease the contagion and be in a better position to help reduce the anxiety of young people in our lives. Some important steps are:

  • Have, and communicate, realistic expectations about young people’s performance on exams.
  • Emphasize effort and learning over grades or test rewards/consequences.
  • Be careful not to communicate your doubts in their abilities and/or negative expectations.
  • Watch for avoidance – it feeds anxiety! Do not let young people avoid activities that worry them. In fact, learning to tolerate anxiety is how we overcome fears.
  • Model and/or discuss overcoming your own fears. Share stories about how you keep your own anxiety under control.
  • Help a young person find balance. Studying is important but so is physical activity, social interaction, downtime, and sleep! Together create a realistic schedule that includes all of the above.
  • Examine anxiety in other areas of the young person’s life. Research shows us that the greater levels of anxiety in children’s lives (from school, home, or elsewhere), the greater the potential for students to be susceptible to test anxiety.
  • Challenge unhelpful thinking habits such as excessive worry about possible problems in the future and black and white thinking (i.e. things are all good OR all bad).

By paying attention to the role anxiety has in our lives we will be in a better position to help reduce the impact on our young people and help them reach their potential on exams and in life.