Teen Angst

Helping adolescents deal with anger and other emotions effectively

Back to School Anxiety

Tips to help your teen overcome back to school fears and anxiety.

Alex wasn't looking forward to the first day of school. His family recently moved from a small town into the bustling city. His new school was about three times the size of the old one and he only knew one person his age. Each time he thought about the first day of school, he quickly banished it and pretended it didn't exist...until now. The days were growing closer and Alex was faced with the harsh reality that school would soon begin. The questions, “Will I make friends?" "Will I get lost?" "Will I fit in?" raced throughout his mind. Alex was experiencing something many teens experience - back to school anxiety.

Sometimes the first day of school isn't all that it's cut out to be... Soon, if not already, doors will open and students will pour down the freshly waxed floors heading to their first class. While some students may eagerly anticipate this day, many like Alex, see it as a day of doom and gloom. The school year may be particularly difficult for students who may have just moved, are first-timers to middle or high school, or may not have many friends. To these students fear begins to consume their thoughts. Ask any anxious teen what back to school fear pre-occupies his/her mind and you'll probably hear...

• Who are my teachers?

• Will I like my teachers?

• Will I make good grades?

• Will my courses be too hard?

• Will I know anyone in my classes?

• Will I have lunch with my friends?

• Will I get lost?

• Will I fit in?

• Will people like me?

As in life teens have to learn how to cope with difficult situations and starting school is no different. Teens have to learn how to effectively deal with their fears in healthy and helpful ways. Avoiding school is not a viable solution. Fortunately, if your teen is experiencing back to school anxiety there are some ways to help him/her cope.

Coping with Back to School Fear and Anxiety:

1. If at all possible, get your teen’s academic schedule ahead of time. Knowing what to expect is a good thing.

2. Schedule a time to walk through the school building, allowing your teen find his/her classes before the first day; this can ease a lot of fear.

3. If the school offers an orientation program, sign your teen up. This can be especially beneficial to a teen that’s new to the area. Your teen will not only learn rules and procedures, but also will have the opportunity to make friends.

4. Make sure your teen is eating healthy, getting plenty of rest and exercising. When we get stressed we often neglect the basics of staying healthy and that's no different for teens. When coping with life-stressors, a hungry, sleep deprived and lazy teen is an emotional roller coaster waiting to happen.

5. Encourage your teen to talk about his/her fear and anxiety. Let him/her know that his/ her feelings are completely normal.

6. Help your teen fit in. Teens worry about belonging. Encourage your teen to get involved with clubs, sports, and other extracurricular activities that spark your teen's interest. Plus, if your teen goes to a large school, it’s important to get involved. Being in a club or activity can create a small community within a large environment.

7. Talk with your teen’s school counselor before school begins. School counselors are wonderful advocates and can help your teen make healthy transitions.

When You Need to Get Professional Help:

Sometimes, stress, fear and worry can exceed what's considered normal. If you notice any of the signs below, please get professional help.

Seek help if your teen’s anxiety:

• is more frequent and intense than usual.

• doesn’t seem to be getting better.

• pre-occupies his or her mind the majority of the time.

• interferes with eating and sleeping.

• interferes with everyday functioning and activities.

• is out of proportion to the actual situation.

• is leading to depression.

Back to school anxiety is common. Anxiety is the body's way of alerting us to respond to dangerous or stressful events. It isn't always a bad emotion, it can actually be helpful. Anxiety can help us stay focused, motivated and move us into action. So your teen may need to go through the feelings of anxiety in order to mentally prepare for the first day of school. Some teens have a harder time adjusting than others. If your teen is continuously struggling with anxiety you may need to get him/her professional help.

Alex made it through the first day of school. When he got home he quickly fell into his old routine of raiding the fridge. He thought back on his day and realized that it wasn't as bad as he thought it would be. Truth be told, he met some neat people, he didn't get lost, and his teachers seemed nice. Although he still had a lot of things to get used to, at least he got through the hardest part, the first day...

Wishing your teen and you a wonderful 2014-2015 school year!

 

Raychelle Cassada Lohmann, M.S., L.P.C., is the author of The Anger Workbook for Teens.

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