school phobia

Do you have a fear or apprehension of going to school and creating significant distress in your life? You might be dealing with school phobia. This article will discuss this anxiety disorder and what it entails as well as how you can learn how to minimize discomfort so you can start attending class and eventually beat this phobia.

What Is School Phobia?

Most people are aware of phobias in one way or another. For example, aviophobia, which is the fear of flying, acrophobia, the fear of heights, and arachnophobia, the fear of spiders, are some of the most common ones that get talked about often.

Believe it or not, there can be a phobia for just about anything, even if there isn’t a specific name for it, and school is no exception.

While fear is an important component of phobias, it’s the irrationality and the excessiveness of the anxiety that comes with it that truly distinguishes being afraid of something or having a true phobia.

People with school phobia have severe emotional reactions to the idea of going to class and will go to great lengths to try to avoid it. For this reason, school phobia is also known as school refusal.

Symptoms of School Phobia

School phobia is most frequently seen in kids and adolescents, who have concerns for their safety or a fear of being separated from their family, but it can also affect adults too, and lately, this fear can be fueled by the global COVID-19 pandemic.

While phobias are specifically related to a trigger, the truth is, all of them have the same symptoms in common that can be summed up as:

  • A disproportionate level of anxiety to the perceived danger
  • Avoidance behaviors
  • Functional impairment

For example, someone with school phobia might avoid going to class for days on end, and when faced with attending it, the anxiety can become so severe that it causes panic attacks and other physical symptoms such as nausea and headaches.

That being said, in the Diagnostic & Statistical Manual 5th edition (DSM-5) by the American Psychiatric Association, each phobia you can think of can be categorized under “Specific Phobia.”

Since the diagnostic criteria don’t change between the different kinds of phobias out there, this means that treatment strategies are also primarily the same and can be applied to any phobia. The approach will simply need to be tailored to your specific source of fear, which is going to school.

Luckily, essentially all phobias can be cured with the right plan, and the next section will show you ways you can treat school phobia and work towards your educational goals.

Exposure Therapy

In order to overcome a phobia, one needs to confront their fears eventually, and a technique that is designed to do this safely and in a gradual process is exposure therapy.

Exposure therapy is a type of cognitive-behavioral therapy that changes the way an individual thinks and behaves towards something by introducing or exposing them to their triggers, which in this case, is school or even the mere thought of going there.

This technique can be daunting at first, but it’s highly effective, and when performed with the guidance of a mental health professional, it’s completely safe.

The goal is to make you stop avoidance behaviors so that you can become desensitized to your phobias. This tactic greatly reduces anxiety symptoms, and in the case of school phobia, will make it easier to start comfortably attending it as you realize that there is no real threat to being there.

Learn Relaxation Techniques

Another effective way to handle the symptoms of anxiety is by eliciting the relaxation response, which can be done through strategies such as deep breathing, visualization, and meditation.

In addition to exposure therapy, these are techniques that you can work on with the assistance of a therapist and can be used to ease the discomfort that can come from exposing oneself to their fears.

However, these are all techniques you can still practice on your own. Deep breathing, in particular, can be used anytime and anywhere and will be especially useful if you’re having an immediate reaction to a phobia.

So, if you’re getting ready to go to school, make sure to take slow, deep breaths and visualize yourself being calm and getting through the day. Over time, each subsequent one will become easier to tackle.

Be Prepared

Lastly, having a sense of preparedness can work wonders in alleviating stress and anxiety related to school, and its effectiveness shouldn’t be underestimated.

For example, learning where things are located on campus, getting familiar with the technology you’ll be using, and reading up on the syllabi and other course materials ahead of time (if you have access to it) may help reduce some of the nerves of going back to school.

You can also discuss with your instructors ahead of time about some of the concerns you’re having – many people are apprehensive about returning to school because of the pandemic, and the vast majority of professors will understand what you’re going through.

With that in mind, you can still take precautions by wearing a mask, sanitizing, and practicing social distancing. Online courses are usually an option too and can also provide some relief, but some people might consider this an avoidance tactic that won’t cure the phobia. Nonetheless, while the actions of others might not be in your control, doing your best to reduce your risk of COVID-19 is, and knowing this, could help you overcome the fear of going to school again.

Where To Find More Information

If you’re interested in learning more about phobias and what you can do to conquer yours, visit BetterHelp to find more free resources like this one you might find informative and relevant to your needs.

You can also learn how to get connected to a licensed professional who will guide you through exposure therapy and other techniques to help you reduce anxiety. It will be a process, but with the right approach, anyone can get better of their phobias and find some peace of mind.


If you are struggling with the thought of going back to school, you’re not alone. School phobia is a very real phenomenon that affects people of all ages, but it doesn’t have to impede your ability to further your education, and hopefully, the advice here can help you get on track to finding the success you want in life.

This article was contributed by Marie Miguel, who has been a writer and research expert for nearly a decade, covering a variety of health-related topics. Currently, she is contributing to the expansion and growth of a free online mental health resource with With an interest and dedication to addressing stigmas associated with mental health, she continues to specifically target subjects related to anxiety and depression.

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