No one likes anxiety, but everyone gets it – especially when you’re facing the unknown. That’s certainly the case for back-to-school jitters.
For kids, it can be particularly distressing because they don’t know how to manage this uncomfortable emotion.
“Anxiety and worry can very much be a normal reaction to everyday life stressors, and it can be useful as it helps us to increase our focus as well as be prepared,” said Pirthvi Giyanwani, MD, the newest member of our Pediatric Clinic team.
Learning to deal with nerves is part of growing up, but kids often struggle in silence. A little empathy goes a long way.
“I encourage patients and their families to start an open dialogue regarding anxiety at a young age,” Giyanwani said. “Talking about anxiety, fears and worries with someone who loves and supports you can be one of the most helpful things you can do.”
For typical anxiety-provoking situations, it’s important to know that nervous feelings are normal. The trick is managing these emotions. Lifestyle tools that can help:
- Mindfulness techniques teach the brain to stay in the moment.
- Exercise boosts neurochemicals that calm the brain.
- Breathing relaxes the body and mind.
- Healthy eating has been found to improve mental health.
- Adequate sleep is important. “Never underestimate the impact of sleep on mood and ability to cope with anxiety,” Giyanwani said.
Breathing, and doing it correctly, can be one of the easiest, most accessible and successful coping strategies. Teach your child the 4, 7, 8 technique. Take a breath in for 4 seconds, hold it for 7 seconds, release for 8 seconds; and then repeat three to four times. This exercise can help to soothe a racing heart. Slowing down our heart rate allows for better focus, alleviates anxiety and helps us to calm our mind for better, more rational decision-making.
Things you can do specifically for school-related anxiety:
- Talk about it. Some kids may be acting out because they struggle to say how they feel. Ask open-ended questions: “I’ve noticed you seem frustrated. Is school on your mind?”
- Offer a sneak peek. Talk about what the day will be like, so they know what to expect.
- Find those friends. Will your child know someone in their first class, or have someone to ride the bus with or walk in with? Buddying up, when possible, can be a stress reliever.
- Role play. Practice first day conversations and ice breakers, such as: “What did you do this summer?”
- Do a dry run. Practice getting ready for school by running through the process before school starts. Visit the school or classroom beforehand, if possible.
- Share your experience. Tell a story about how you handled your own nervous back-to-school days.
Anxiety can feel like an invisible force that holds you back in life. Learning to face it is an essential part of growing up. With good habits and practice, everyday nerves can be calmed. But if anxiety persists or escalates into panic, seek professional help.