Anxiety and Bullying Behaviour
What is Bullying Behaviour?
At The Diana Award, we define bullying behaviour as:
‘repeated, negative behaviour that is intended to make others feel upset, uncomfortable or unsafe.’
What is Anxiety?
MindUK defines anxiety as being:
‘what we feel when we are worried, tense or afraid – particularly about things that are about to happen, or which we think could happen in the future.’
MHFA notes that ‘students and the unemployed are more likely to feel anxious’ and young people are ‘more likely to feel anxious about personal relationships’ (MHFA England, 2017, p. 48). AnxietyUK notes that anxiety can affect anyone of any age group, and ‘even some of the most confident people you know could be living with anxiety’. Furthermore, recent studies suggest that ‘as many as one in six young people will experience an anxiety condition at some point. This means that up to five people in a school class may be living with anxiety such as OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder), social anxiety and shyness, exam stress, worry or panic attacks.’
These statistics show that anxiety is very prevalent. Despite this, people are often hesitant to talk about it, meaning that some of your friends and peers may be experiencing anxiety but not telling anyone. It is therefore important for us all to be able to recognise the symptoms of anxiety and make sure we know how best to support someone who may be experiencing anxiety. When thinking about symptoms, it is important to remember that anxiety can affect everyone in different ways and different things can trigger anxiety in different people.
Anxiety and Bullying Behaviour
Ditch the Label’s annual bullying survey in 2019 highlighted that young people who had experienced bullying behaviour in the last 12-months felt depressed (45%), anxious (41%) and experienced suicidal thoughts (33%) and self-harm (26%) as a result. This suggests that it’s really important for Anti-Bullying Ambassadors to be aware of the signs and symptoms of anxiety and how to support a peer experiencing it.
How to Recognise Anxiety
YoungMinds notes that people dealing with anxiety could show the following symptoms:
- feeling nervous, on edge, or panicky all the time
- feeling overwhelmed or full of dread
- feeling out of control
- having trouble sleeping
- low appetite
- finding it difficult to concentrate
- feeling tired and grumpy
- heart beating really fast or thinking you’re having a heart attack
- having a dry mouth
- feeling faint
People experiencing anxiety can sometimes avoid situations or withdraw and isolate themselves from others due to fear of not being understood. As Anti-Bullying Ambassadors, it is important to make sure everyone in your school feels supported.
Supporting a Friend/Peer with Anxiety
Here are some ways you can support a friend/peer who might be dealing with anxiety:
If you know someone at school who is dealing with anxiety and reaches out for support, the best thing you can do is listen non-judgementally. Don’t feel you have to provide a solution or answer to their worries; just letting your friend know you are there for them to talk through how they are feeling is so important. You could then encourage your friend/peer to speak to a trusted adult – like a teacher or parent/carer - about their anxiety and seek support.
For someone experiencing anxiety or panic, a little reassurance that they are okay, they are safe and that this feeing will pass can go a long way. The NHS notes that it is important to ‘reassure them and show them that you understand how they feel.’
- Be patient
Someone dealing with anxiety might be more irritable and may start isolating themselves from others. This could be present in mood swings or ‘flaky’ behaviour, which may annoy or upset you. However, it is important to remember that this behaviour is not purposefully targeted at you and to be patient in your interactions with people dealing with anxiety and sympathetic to what they may be going through. If your friend cancels plans because they don’t feel up to it, instead of lashing out, react kindly and let them know that you are still there for them. People with anxiety may also struggle with negative thoughts about the future which may seem unrealistic to someone else. If someone you know voices such thoughts to you, avoid using phrases such as ‘Get over it’, ‘Why are you thinking like that’ or ‘That is obviously not going to happen’ and instead talk through how they are feeling.
- Ask for help
Whilst it is vital that we all feel confident in knowing how to best support a friend who is dealing with anxiety, it is also important to recognise that reaching out and asking for support from another friend, trusted adult or encouraging them to speak to their GP is sometimes the best thing you can do for your friend. Don’t feel as though it is only up to you to support them and try not to take on all of your friend’s/peer’s concerns alone, as this can affect your own wellbeing.
- Run campaigns
If you are an Anti-Bullying Ambassador, why not run campaigns in your school which promote mental health awareness and encourage your peers to engage in activities which promote positive wellbeing?
Campaigns could include:
- Getting a speaker from a local mental health charity to give a talk on anxiety and how it can affect students in school.
- Run workshops to educate your peers on anxiety and how they can support a friend dealing with anxiety. If a student with anxiety feels comfortable sharing their own experience, this can be a great opportunity for their peers to listen, learn and understand how to best support someone with anxiety.
- Run meditation and mindfulness sessions.
- Do a whole-school, anonymous survey which asks students if they suffer with anxiety and stress and asks what extra support they would find most helpful. For example, if many students report feeling anxious due to similar issues, this is something which you can share with your teachers to see if anything in the school could be changed.
- Have a weekly or daily Feelings Box, where everyone can write down how they are feeling and anonymously put it in the box. This encourages people to think and reflect on how they are feeling.
- Put up positive, reassuring and supportive quotes around school, so people know they are never alone.
- Signpost The Diana Award Crisis Messenger Service around the school, so students know how they can access further support if they do not feel comfortable reaching out to someone they know.
If you think anyone in your school is experiencing bullying behaviour due to having anxiety, here at The Diana Award, we encourage you to be an Upstander. You can be an Upstander in a few ways:
- If you feel safe in the situation, you tell the person who is displaying bullying behaviour that their behaviour is hurtful and that they should be more understanding to those who may be dealing with anxiety. Alternatively, you could calmly lead the person being targeted away from the situation. Never retaliate, as this can make the situation worse and put you in harm’s way.
- If you do not feel safe intervening directly, you can also be an Upstander by telling a trusted teacher or supervisor at your school. By reporting incidents of bullying behaviour, this means that they are more likely to be dealt with and that the student who has been targeted can then receive the support they need.
- Consider if there are any opportunities available to you to educate your peers about anxiety and promote mental health awareness. You can use some of the campaign ideas we listed above or research some others – get creative and ask your peers for their ideas too!
The Diana Award Crisis Messenger - Provides free, 24/7 crisis support across the UK. If you are a young person in crisis, you can text DA to 85258. Trained volunteers will listen to how you’re feeling and help you think through the next step towards feeling better.
YoungMinds - The UK’s leading charity with information about mental health in young people.