Let’s face it, we were really hoping that we would be in the post-pandemic phase of life. But, sadly, that just isn’t the case. And as the effects of Covid-19 continue to unfold and as the contentious debates about how to deal with it rages on, parents and teens are naturally anxious about what this new school year will bring.
COVID-19 has been challenging for most of us, but teenagers and young adults may be experiencing the worst of it. Did you know almost 1 in 3 teenagers’ ages 13 to 18 will experience an anxiety disorder? These were statistics that existed even in the PRE-pandemic. But with the pandemic, many teens may be experiencing more anxiety.
If you’re a teen struggling with anxiety or you are a parent raising one of them, below are 5 incredibly practical tips to help you or your teen work through any back-to-school anxiety:
Do self check-ins
Returning to face-to face learning as the pandemic stretches on is anxiety producing. But if we’re honest, returning to school each fall has always been more than a little bit nerve-wracking. But what do we do with all of those uncomfortable emotions associated with all of the unknowns? Well, have you ever heard that you have to “Name it to tame it?” Although overly simplified, there is some truth to that saying. Identifying your emotions helps you to work through them. From time-to-time, it’s important to ask yourself, “What’s underneath my anxiety?” Typically, teens will notice feelings of uncertainty lurking underneath — which can morph into other emotions like irritability, fear, sadness, and even anger. Try to acknowledge and name these “underneath” emotions to help reduce your stress and improve decision making.
Write down what helps
With a new school year approaching (or already here) and the nervous jitters in full-effect, it’s important to identify helpful coping tools and strategies. You can begin by simply asking yourself, “What would help me feel calmer?” And then, write down your responses. Listening to music? Taking a walk? Talking to a parent or a friend? Emailing your teacher ahead of time to clarify expectations? Sidenote: If you’re going to a new school, make sure to participate in any new student orientations or schedule a visit to walk through the building and get familiar with everything! When we know what to expect, we feel less anxious.
Take a deep breath
As a therapist, I am often asked about the best ways to reduce stress and anxiety. I respond by sharing a little bit about the body’s stress and relaxation response states. Rapid and shallow breathing is an extremely common physical sign of anxiety. So is an increase in heart rate and even muscle tension. When you feel any of these things, make sure you pause and focus on taking slow, deep breaths (it’s one of the fastest ways to reduce anxiety!). Try counting to 4 as you inhale and then exhale slowly to a count of 6. Why does deep breathing help? Deep breathing increases the supply of oxygen to your brain. By breathing slower and more deeply from your abdomen and in a focused way, you send signals to your nervous system to calm down.
Share your fear or worries with someone you trust
Many teens who were navigating virtual learning are now attending a school building for the first time. And for some teens, this will be the first time in a while they will be in large groups of people. These are big and possibly difficult transitions for anyone, but especially those with social anxiety. If you’ve strictly done remote learning this past year and half, expect that social interactions will be even more exhausting! And give yourself permission to come home and just crash for the first few days. If you have a more specific concern related to academics, fitting in, or other social dynamics, share those concerns with those you trust and love! Telling a trusted friend or adult (like a parent, teacher, school counselor, etc.) about your anxiety can serve as an “emotional exhale,” which helps release any mounting pressure you may feel.
Create a new morning and evening routine
Anyone else enjoy sleeping in a little bit extra in the summer? I certainly have. But it’s now time for a new routine. Everyone’s situation is unique; however, schedules and routines generally help to calm an anxious nervous system. Take some time to create a new fall routine that helps you feel comfortable, calm and — most of all — prepared! Before you go to sleep, take a minute to pick out tomorrow’s outfit and review your schedule. Maybe even go to bed a little earlier than normal to make sure you’re rested + recharged for the new (early!) wake up time. In the morning, wake up a little earlier than you HAVE to so you can set an affirmation, thank God for the amazing day ahead, eat a healthy breakfast and make sure you’re not hurried running out the door.
Increase your Self-Care
Self-care practices look different for every individual. There’s no right or wrong way to care for yourself. The key is incorporating something so simple that it can be done almost every day. And if anxiety begins to creep in, do more self-care! Self-care tips for managing anxiety vary and can include staying hydrated, staying active (dancing, jogging, cycling), and/ or reading a good book. Other helpful self-care practices include allowing yourself more time than you think might be needed to complete a task and saying “no” more often to those things that cause unnecessary anxiety OR simply don’t help you to grow as an individual. It’s called boundary setting. So, yes, it’s actually OK to be a little bit self-ish (I call it self-protective) with your time and energy especially since no one else likely will.
If you are a parent and need additional support with a kid or teen struggling with anxiety or depression, consider grabbing a book I co-authored called SEEN.
In the book Seen: Healing Despair and Anxiety in Kids and Teens Through the Power of Connection, we outline five connection tools that will guide parents and caring adults to help kids and teens feel seen and heard.
If you are a teenage girl, looking for additional back to school tips, check out @lightspeakslouder on Instagram.
Which of these 6 tips sounds most helpful? Comment below and let us know!
Chinwé Williams, PhD, LPC, NCC, is a licensed clinical therapist and owner of Meaningful Solutions Counseling & Consulting in Roswell, Georgia. Dr. Williams specializes in adolescent, young adult, and family mental and emotional wellness. She has most recently served as an associate professor, college and high school counselor, clinical therapist, and executive coach. She is also a consultant for schools, non-profit, faith-based, and corporate work settings. A published journal author and a frequently featured expert and podcast contributor on topics related to child, adolescent, and adult mental health and parenting, she is the co-author of the book Seen: Healing Despair and Anxiety in Kids and Teens Through the Power of Connection. To find out more, please visit TheSeenBook.com