Anxiety and EBSA

Anxiety has also been identified as a key feature of EBSA. Although a certain level of anxiety is considered a normal and natural part of growing up, some young people may experience heightened levels of anxiety which impact on their functioning and school experiences.

When the anxiety is linked to school avoidance, the young person may experience anxious and fearful thoughts around attending school and their ability to cope with school. These feelings may also be accompanied by physiological symptoms of anxiety such as nausea, vomiting, shaking, sweating etc, and may start the night before, or even a few days before school.

In order to avoid these overwhelming emotions and the fear associated with school attendance the young person may withdraw from the situation, refusing to get ready for school or to leave the house or enter the school. The young person may also turn to hostile behaviours as a means to avoid the threatening situation and to try and control what feels like a very ‘out-of-control’ situation (Thambirajah et al., 2008).

These behaviours, and the avoidance of school, may then contribute to the maintenance of EBSA over time. Heyne and Rollings (2002) suggest that it is crucial to consider the child’s perceptions of their ability to cope, including perceived social and academic competence, as negative thoughts about one’s ability to cope can lead to further feelings of worry and if left unaddressed, may undermine attempts to improve attendance.

Figure 2. Diagram showing the initial anxiety causing the non-attendance and the secondary maintenance factors. Pic

Download a PDF version of the Emotionally Based School Avoidance Guidance and other leaflets here.