The numbers are down, then they’re up… school is returning, but what will it look like? With so much uncertainty, there is bound to be a lot of anxiety for those returning to school this autumn. According to a survey carried out by SpunOut, 42% of university students are concerned about returning to college and 58% of students cited that Covid-19 has had a negative impact on their mental health.
Some may be experiencing anxiety for the first time and may not be aware of what it is. While there is only so much we can do about the circumstances we find ourselves our in, there’s a number of things we can do to manage some of the anxiety and nervousness around returning to school.
If you have lost a family member during Covid (regardless of whether it was due to the virus) you may still be struggling with grief while trying to deal with the uncertainty of everything else. For many of us who have lost someone during this time, we may not have been able to engaging in certain activities that help aide us in our grief such as being able to attend the funeral, being able to see them in hospital before passing, etc.
When we are experiencing grief, it is not uncommon to feel distracted, have difficulty sleeping and struggling to concentrate or remember things. If this is something you are going through, it is possible you might be worried about how to manage schoolwork while also coping with grief at the same time.
Difficulty at home
Maybe you have moved back home to stay in your parent’s house because of lockdown measures, or maybe you are still living with your parents. With so many people at home (especially if everyone has been trying to work remotely and find their own space) you might be experiencing increased difficulty in the house. This can be especially true if some of the people in your home have been struggling with their own mental health around socially isolating from others. There might be some fear that if another lockdown happens, you will all be stuck in the house together again.
The way our brain works, it likes when things are routine and predictable. Even the most spontaneous of us need some predictability. When things are changing around, such as how many people we can socialise with, will there be another lock-down, will I be allowed on campus or not, etc, this requires a lot more brain power. As a result, you might find that you are more likely to feel tired even on the quietest of days. The up and down can sometimes be emotionally draining for us.
Over the last few months, we have all been socially isolating more than we normally would. As a result of this there, we might start to feel like some of our friendships are becoming more distant. While some of us may have been able to keep in contact through text or social media, others of us may have struggled to keep the contact going.
Everything about the way we interact with others has changed now. No more running up and giving friends hugs, having to socially distance, but being confused about when we have to do these things versus when it’s not necessary?
It’s easy for us to feel safe while we are at home because we are in an environment which we can control. So, it is natural that as we step back out into the world, we are likely to experience some anxiety or nervousness. We might worry about if other students are being as a careful as we are… are they limiting their number of contacts?
Everything about the way we interact with others has changed now. No more running up and giving friends hugs, having to socially distance, but being confused about when we have to do these things versus when it’s not necessary? When should I wear a mask? When should I not wear one? Will someone be offended if I ask them not to stand or sit too close to me? As we all experience this socially for the first time in new settings together, we are likely to feel a little uncomfortable as we get used to what we should and should not be doing.
Tips for Coping with back to school anxiety
While all of this can be tough for us at times, the good news is there a few things you can do to help managing your anxiety as you transition back into school.
Engage in Relaxation
When we become anxious about things, our brain enters a stress response. When this happens, it is difficult for us think critically and problem solve. This can create some difficulties when we are trying to make decisions or figure out what to do about something. So, if we can engage in relaxation exercises such as deep breathing, or progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) this can help but the breaks on that fight/flight response.
Do not avoid everything
When we are experiencing anxiety, it is normal for us to want to avoid the situation in an attempt to avoid the associated anxiety. While it is not helpful to avoid all the situations, its also not helpful to try to fully expose yourself to anxiety-provoking situations all the time either. Where comfortable and safe, try to still engage and socialise where you can.
Challenge your thoughts about back to school anxiety
Are you unsure if your worries are out of control or justified? A quick way to check in, is to write a list of everything you are worried about. As you go through each item, write down next to it what evidence you have to support that statement or what evidence you have against this statement. Once you are done, re-read your list and see how you feel. If you feel a little bit better about the situation, chances are your thoughts might have been getting a little out of proportion. If you feel the same, there’s a good chance you’re actually thinking about things in a helpful way.
do not skimp on sleep voluntarily, this is just going to decrease your brain’s energy levels and make it more difficult to deal with stressors as they come.
Remember the victories
If you have a day that goes well, or your anxiety is not as bad, celebrate it! I don’t mean throw a big party, but it can be useful to keep a list each day of things that went well to remind you that not everything is doom and gloom (even sometimes it feels that way when we look at the news). When we are going through difficult times your brain is primed to identify the negative firsts and ignore the positives a survival instinct. So, by identifying positives this can help pull you out of that fight/flight response and allow you to experience some positivity of the course of your day.
Keep up with the basics
Are you sleeping 7-9 hours per night? How much caffeine are you drinking? Are you eating 3 complete, nutritious meals per day? Are you engaging in movement or activity? Often when we’re stressed or anxious, the basics are the first thing that go out the window. All of these things are DIRECTLY correlated with mood and anxiety levels; so, a great place to start is try to make sure you’re moving a bit each day, eating regularly nutritious meals, and limiting caffeine intake to 1-2 cups of coffee per day. And do not skimp on sleep voluntarily, this is just going to decrease your brain’s energy levels and make it more difficult to deal with stressors as they come.
Keep in mind that it is normal to feel back to school anxiety during this time of uncertainty. Unfortunately, no amount of counselling or therapy can ever make ALL your anxiety go away. But if you find that after trying some of these things you are still struggling to get through the day, it might be useful to talk to a counsellor or therapist about it.
Spectrum Mental Health are the leading provider of private mental health services in Ireland and are an Irish owned company. Our team of psychologists and psychotherapists are experts in their fields and offer top notch care to our clients. If you’re in any doubt about video therapy or have any further questions about online treatment, feel free to reach out to us at [email protected] or call us at 01 611 1719.