What does it really feel like to be school phobic?

I spend a lot of my time trying to explain, on behalf of the young people I work with at Ground beneath your feet, what it is like to be anxious at school. If it’s never happened to you it can be hard to understand.

I try to describe how it feels to be school phobic, when just facing getting into school becomes cripplingly frightening. How you will do or say anything to avoid, to refuse to put yourself into such a painful place.

To those watching we see the classic fight, flight, freeze responses associated with stress and anxiety playing out. Parents of a school refusing child will relate to trying to retrieve a child who is curled up under a bed or hearing language coming out of even very young children that will make the neighbours tut.

At groundbeneathyourfeet.co.uk part of the work I do helping children and parents understand and begin to manage and beat their school phobia is to encourage them to ‘get it out’ talking, writing, drawing, whatever works for them.

Enter the star of this blog

A young girl, who has in my opinion, totally nailed writing a brilliant description of her situation. I am grateful to her for her generosity in allowing me to share it in its entirety. As with all people going through similar difficulties all she is asking is for is your understanding.


Dear Reader,

You have no idea how difficult it is living with anxiety and other issues. You might think you do but honestly, you don’t… You can try to understand but you will never feel the intense amount of emotional and physical pain that I have to fight every day of my life. Do you have any idea what it’s like to look at yourself in the mirror and want to throw up? I see girls at my school and envy them more than I can even explain. When people tell me I’m not trying, you have no idea how much that hurts me. It takes strength to live with my anxiety and everything else. So don’t tell me I’m not trying because having a panic attack would drop you to your knees. I try not to let my anxiety define me as a person and I try not to blame myself for my problems but it’s a lot harder than it looks to feel better about the way I look at myself. I’m only human and it takes courage to get up every day despite how I feel. Even just standing in front of someone and telling them I feel anxious takes strength. Some triggers of social anxiety (1 form of it) – when I hear people laugh near me, not talking because I’m afraid that what I say will be judged, not being able to go anywhere alone, hating when the teacher asks me a question in class, eye contact, ordering food, eating in front of people, paying for things at a shop, asking for help, always preparing what to say and playing it over and over in my mind to make sure I don’t mess up, seeing people I know in public. Feeling embarrassed ALL THE TIME.

Imagine this…

You have walked into a room full of people. You sit down and get your things out trying to be a bit loud as you have a very big fear of quietness. After a few minutes of being in there, you notice that you begin feeling a bit sick and you get a sinking feeling in your stomach, it makes you feel a little uncomfortable but you try to look past it. It begins to get more intense. You start shaking and your heart starts beating a lot faster than usual. You’re also really struggling to swallow. You tell yourself repeatedly that you are going to be okay. Your heart beat starts to get even faster and the walls feel like they’re closing in on you. You start to get fidgety and your body starts to do small jolts that you can’t control (it is barely noticeable to other people). Your breathing starts to get faster and faster and faster no matter how hard you try and control it. You now are feeling quite dizzy and faint. You try to drink water but the feeling just doesn’t go away. You are getting quite hot now but you are getting cold shivers. You are sweating but you don’t want to take your coat off as you feel really self-conscious without it. Your muscles keep tensing and you don’t know why. Your fingers and hands start to go numb and your legs are like jelly. You now feel like you are about to break down crying but you are trying to hold it in but sometimes it just comes out uncontrollably. You feel a bit like you’re going to die. You need to get out NOW before something really bad happens. You are about to hyperventilate and feel like you’re about to collapse, GET OUT. The adrenaline is pumping so much you can feel it and every symptom has stepped up a level. You need to get out but you will look stupid. The room is spinning. JUST RUNNNNN!

Oh my gosh you’re out. The relief. You now feel emotionally drained. Oh no… what are the teachers going to think??? Oh well concentrate on the positives, you’re out now. Time to face it again next lesson. Imagine 50 minutes of that non-stop. If it’s a double lesson it’s about 2 hours.

All the above was my version of MINOR anxiety. I get that roughly 8/9 times a day at the least. It is hard to believe but it is the truth. So don’t ever tell me I don’t try or “just do it”. It’s hard okay. In the morning, I freak out more than you can imagine. And I’m sorry if when I get in to school and can’t go to a lesson it just isn’t good enough and I’m not even trying because sometimes even leaving home is the most difficult part of the day, it isn’t nice being unsure of what the day is going to bring me. I have so many phobias that I am so paranoid about all sorts of different thing happening I don’t focus on the positives as there is so much on my mind. When I wake up in the morning I don’t think “Ahhhhhh another great day to be alive” I see it as another day I have to try and battle my way through without breaking down. Sounds selfish I know, but it is just the way it is. I get home and cry, a lot… Knowing I have to face school again the next day is very tough for me. Remember, it isn’t just school where this happens. Also anxiety isn’t my only problem; there are things that not a lot of people know about. So if I ever have a moment where I am not as pleasant as I could be then I’m sorry about that but give me a break, I face a lot every day. If this hasn’t changed the way you think, then I don’t know what will. Just remember that a lot of the time, I won’t show how I really feel inside, so if you think that I’m okay then I am probably not, just letting you know.


If you ‘get it’, if you understand, if something similar happens to you, I would dearly love for you to get in touch via my contact page.

Equally if you are a teacher who on reading this recognises similarities to a pupil you teach, do get in touch via my contact page, there is so much you can do that can make a real difference and genuinely help.