Back to school: The normalcy of anxiety

Cathy Adams Writing 3 Comments

Kids are heading back to school in the next couple of weeks and they are feeling it. We parents are feeling it, too. We all have different feelings and experiences when it comes to school, but the word I am hearing the most right now is “anxiety”.

Well, of course. We are all feeling a little nervous, scared, and maybe even a little melancholy. Each person has their own experience with anxiety, but the important thing to remember is that anxiety is normal – it’s a typical human experience.

I know that many people struggle with anxiety on a more clinical level, and they require more support or intervention. But when back to school rolls around, most of us experience some kind of discomfort, we anticipate an upcoming shift.

Instead of worrying about how you are going to “stop” the anxiety, how about feeling it instead?

How about talking about your feelings, journaling your thoughts, or sharing your concerns with someone you love? This process may actually help you pinpoint what makes you so nervous – is it a new routine, saying goodbye to summer, or the sadness about homework and making lunches again?

Whatever it is, speak it. Don’t carry around the feelings of anxiety without speaking and sharing. Anxiety is actually an opportunity to recognize and clarify your thoughts.

Sometimes when I practice this I realize my worry is really outdated, it’s not even present-day stuff. This time of year just brings up old emotions from my time as a student; it reawakens the ghosts of my past.

And what a relief that is to recognize and let go of some of that heavy energy, to realize that it’s no longer true, it’s no longer valid in this space and time.

It’s so important for us as parents to process our feelings, because then we can actually be present for our children and their feelings. Again, their anxiety is to be expected. One of the greatest gifts we can give our kids is the ability to validate what they are feeling.

Avoid telling your child why they shouldn’t feel nervous – wouldn’t you be nervous if you were heading to a new classroom, meeting a new teacher, or maybe even starting a new school?

Instead of telling them to not feel a certain way, talk to them about how to manage it. Allow them to tell you how they feel without judging or making them feel silly. Suggest that they write about it, draw pictures of it, move their body to release it.

Let them feel what they are feeling so they can learn how to handle the emotion, rather than avoid the emotion.

Of course you can boost them up and remind them that they have handled “back to school” many times before, but instead of jumping to this immediately, listen first, and then use this as a comfort once they have shared their feelings.

Typical anxiety isn’t something we need to fix, it’s something we need to recognize and process. We need to learn how to breathe through it, question our thinking, or reach out to someone we love to share our concerns.

The more we place fear around anxiety, pretend it doesn’t (or shouldn’t) exist, the more we put it in the dark so it will fester and morph – often into a physical manifestation or a desire to numb out and avoid.

If we validate and normalize anxiety, we can shine a light on it and set it free.

It’s yet another way to stay present for our lives, to recognize and accept ourselves, and our children, as human.

Comments 3

  1. Pingback: Robin Williams, Mental Illness, and Back To School Anxiety | Zen Parenting

  2. cathy… this post was perfect for me to read the week before my kids started school ~ two of them (twins) entering middle school for the first time. it was such a good reminder to let them feel what they feel, to validate that instead of trying to talk them out of it, and to share stories of fears and anxieties together as a family! i have sent this post along several times to friends and my sister. thank you!