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  • Lisa Arango, Ph.D., LMHC

Back to School Jitters?

According to the National Institute for Mental Health, at least 8 percent of kids between the ages of 13-18 have a diagnosed anxiety disorder. Although every kid feels some butterflies in their stomach at the thought of going back to school, for some kids it much more severe. Especially for those changing schools, entering into middle or high school, or kids who tend to be more anxious in general. Here are some tips to help soothe, calm, and manage school related anxiety and get your kids off to a good start.

  1. Talk to your kids about their feelings. This alone can help alleviate their anxiety.

  2. Find out exactly what thoughts are behind their worries. Most of the time, their thoughts are irrational and highly unlikely to ever happen.

  3. Since most of their fears are likely related to school work, friends, and teachers, remind them of their successes in each of these areas in the past.

  4. Have them write out their thoughts and feelings before going to bed. This will allow for a better night’s sleep, which is extremely important for physical and emotional health and well-being.

  5. Discuss coping strategies for dealing with anxiety in school such as changing thinking from “I’m going to fail this test” to “I studied and learned the material so I’m likely to do just fine on the test”. Also doing diaphragmatic breathing to calm the jitters.

  6. Stay organized and plan ahead. Have them write down a list of things to do along with the time allotted for completion. This will help ease the worry of running out of time to complete work or prepare for an exam. The to-do list on paper is usually much less overwhelming than the list in your head.

  7. Nobody’s perfect! Remind them of this often. There is so much pressure on kids these days with SAT prep, college applications, AP classes, not to mention the pressure to be popular, look a certain way, and have as many followers and likes on social media as there are stars in the sky.

  8. Encourage daily exercise like yoga or running. Exercise releases a feel good chemical in the brain called GABA which sooths and calm the anxious mind.

  9. Mindfulness. There are multitudes of studies that show how mindfulness practice (paying attention to the present moment on purpose) strengthens the brain against anxiety. When practiced regularly, mindfulness can actually change the structure of the brain teaching it to stay in the present moment rather than living in the future of “what if’s”. There are several apps that you can try, Calm, Smiling Mind, & Stop, Breath, Think.

  10. If your child shows sign of anxiety that she is not able to manage, consult with a mental health professional who specializes in the treatment of anxiety. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is an effective short term therapy that has proven long- term success for the treatment of anxiety.

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