Conducted by Carl Weems, Ph.D., of the University of New Orleans, the study shows that anxiety intervention programs that focus on academic matters fit into the school routine, and do not carry the same stigma among youth as general anxiety programs.
Weems and his colleagues were among the first to study the effects of Hurricane Katrina on community mental health and anxiety among kids.
He noted that anxiety problems are among the most common emotional difficulties students experience, and are often linked to exposure to disasters. “If not addressed, these feelings could lead to academic difficulties, the increased risk of developing depressive or anxiety disorders, and substance use problems in adulthood,” he said.
It is, however, an issue that is not often addressed in school settings. That’s why Weems and his research team turned their attention to teaching students how to handle test anxiety, since this is a common way anxiety manifests in kids.
A test-anxiety-reduction intervention was presented to 325 kids between the ages of eight and 17 who experienced elevated test anxiety. The students were in grades three through 12 in five public schools in the area around the Gulf of Mexico.
The intervention program was conducted between three and six years after Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005.
The intervention — which taught the kids behavioral strategies, such as relaxation techniques — was conducted as part of each school’s counseling curriculum.
The researchers report that the kids who received the intervention found it to be useful, felt glad they had participated and effectively learned the intervention content.
The researchers also found that the intervention program was associated with decreases in test anxiety, anxiety disorder, and depression symptoms, and especially helped the older students to feel more in control.
In turn, decreases in test anxiety were linked with changes in symptoms of depression and anxiety such as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), according to the researchers.
“Test anxiety interventions may be a practical strategy for conducting emotion-focused prevention and intervention efforts because of a natural fit within the ecology of the school setting,” Weems said.
He cautions that school-based test anxiety interventions should not be considered a first line approach to treating severe anxiety disorders, such as PTSD, but could be employed preventatively to teach students how to handle anxious emotions and other problems.
The study was published in Prevention Science, the official journal of the Society for Prevention Research, published by Springer.