Does the thought of returning to school, sports, and other activities after being at home for nearly two years make you anxious? No pun intended but don’t worry-you are not alone. Research shows that kids and teens report feelings of anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues as a result of COVID-19. Going back to inperson learning is a trigger to many students. Even with schools resuming in some capacity, kids are still dealing with loss, almost constant change, broken social connections, lost social skills, and issues centered around fear and safety. These fears are being renewed by the threat of the Delta variant. I heard a friend of my daughter say, “Here we go again! Another wasted year.”
What Might School Anxiety Look Like?
Anxiety comes in many symptoms, and no two people experience anxiety in exactly the same way. Some anxiety may manifest in the following ways:
- Sleep problems: difficulty falling or staying asleep
- Feeling restless
- Difficulty concentrating
- Frequent worries or intrusive thoughts
- Irritability (might not even know why)
- Muscles hurt
- Frequent headaches and/or stomachaches
It’s not uncommon that behavior may be different as well. We have had it drilled into our heads over the past year and a half to wash our hands, practice social distancing, wear a mask and stay home. It’s completely understandable if you find yourself washing your hands or using hand sanitizer a lot (perhaps even when you’re just at home), worry about getting too close to others when you’re outside, or have a new fear of germs that you keep thinking about. Just remember that it’s been a difficult year filled with uncertainty and near constant changes. Feeling anxiety is ok, even expected. The important thing to remember is that you can work through the feelings and learn to cope with the anxiety.
How Our Bodies Help Tell Us We’re Anxious
It helps to pay attention to how your body feels when you are stressed and anxious. Our bodies send us signals to remind us to slow down and get help when we need it. You might feel some of the following:
- Fast heartbeat
- Sweaty palms
- Breathing fast
- Tensing your muscles
- Clenching your jaw
- Stomach pain
4 Ways to Cope with Anxiety
If you notice any of the signals from above, it’s time to use coping skills to calm your anxiety. Not every coping skill works for every person, so it’s really important to try a few and practice them often.
- Master deep breathing. Deep breathing is the most effective tool to deal with anxious thoughts, but it takes practice. One tip is to trace a square in the palm of your hand while you count your breaths. It goes like this: Trace up while you inhale for four, trace across while you hold for four, trace down while you exhale for four, and trace across while you hold for four. Repeat this twice to calm your worries.
- A stress ball or thinking putty is a great tool to keep in your pocket. Give it a squeeze when you start to feel anxious and this will remind you to slow your breathing.
- Practice positive self-talk. When anxious thoughts make you feel like something is unsafe, take a big deep breath, listen to what the thought is telling you, and replace it with a positive alternative. An example might be, “I know my classroom is clean and safe for me to be at school today.”
- Picture the stoplight. When intrusive thoughts take over your mind, picture a stoplight to work through it. On the red light, stop what you’re doing and ask yourself, “What am I worried about? Why am I having this worry?” Now picture the yellow light and think of some options to solve the problem. Do you need help? Can you use your deep breathing to calm down? Finally, picture the green light while you choose an option and go for it.
- Plan ahead. Use a journal in the evening to write down your worries and potential solutions. That way you have a plan in place to tackle your worries each day.
Anxiety Support Strategy #1: Find Your Supports
Everyone needs at least one person they can connect to during the day. Do you have a friend, teacher, or coach you feel comfortable talking to if you feel overwhelmed at school? If so, keep that person in mind and be sure to work on strengthening that connection by saying hello each day. If not, ask your teacher if you can see the school counselor for help with this. Talking about your feelings of anxiety with someone you trust helps you work through your emotions. It’s really important to let your feelings out.
Anxiety Support Strategy #2: Create A Routine
Routines rmake a difference. That’s because predictability helps you know what comes next and what to do. Knowing what to expect helps us concentrate and feel less overwhelmed. COVID turned most routines upside down and while the new “normal” may look a bit different from life before COVID-19, school should become routine again soon.
Make sure to get plenty of rest, giving yourself time to get ready in the morning, exercise every day and plan both your homework and down time.
Remember-if anxiety is making it hard to get to school or symptoms are interfering with your completing schoolwork and doing other favorite things, it’s time to see a licensed mental health professional. Getting help is the best way to get back on track.