7 Tips for Reducing Back To School Anxiety

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As the schools and colleges go back here in the UK, many students will be feeling less than happy about the return. From social anxiety to exam stress and even health anxiety, just thinking about returning to school can make your heart beat faster and your palms get sweaty. Read on for my 7 tips on how to reduce those panicky feelings leading up to the first few days back….

Tip 1 – Relax

If you’re feeling anxious right now, the first thing to attend to is your physical symptoms. If your heart is racing and your breathing is shallow it can be hard to concentrate on anything else. The fear has triggered your survival response and your body is getting ready to either fight or run away from the threat (it can’t distinguish between a real threat in front of you, and something you’ve conjured up in your mind like thoughts of what might happen at school).

So, before you read on for the rest of the tips, try some deep breathing techniques to slow your heart rate down. Box breathing is a great way to do this, breathe in for the count of 4, hold for the count of 4, then breathe out for the count of 4 and finally hold for the count of 4. You can imagine a box as you do this, tracing along the lines in your mind as you count.

Mindfulness can be helpful here too. Being mindful is really just about focussing on the here and now Check out my 3 Mindful Moments for some quick ideas.

Tip 2 – Rationalise

Often your worries about the first day back at school are about things that are unlikely to happen. So maybe you’re worried about what friendships will be like after a long break at home, or whether teachers will be more strict when you go back. Often these fears are unfounded but they get blown out of proportion in your mind. If you take some time to think about it, you may find you can rationalise them. Be a bit of a detective – look for evidence that the worry will come true, now look for evidence that you will be ok.

Try talking to someone else about your worries as this can often help you put things into perspective. Or try writing it down or drawing your anxiety. Sometimes seeing it in print can help you to see it a different way.

It’s also important to realise that anxiety and stress are normal, healthy ways that our brains and bodies exist in the world. We need a certain amount of anxiety to get us up in the morning. And feeling anxious about an upcoming exam is completely normal – and helps motivates us to revise. Seeing anxiety as part and parcel of being human can help us stop feeling like we’ve lost all control.

Tip 3 – Get Outside

Being out in nature is a great stress reliever and exercise can also help counteract the effects of anxiety. Even if you can’t get out for a walk in countryside, try going outside to get some fresh air. If you can get to an area of greenery this will be even better for your mental health. Meet a friend if you can, so you can talk to them about your anxieties at the same time.

Or walk the dog if you have one – studies show pets can reduce stress and anxiety just by being with you.

Tip 4 – Eat Well

When anxiety hits, the rush of adrenaline (which causes your heart to beat faster and your muscles to tense) can suppress your appetite. There’s a scientific reason for this; as your body prepares to fight the imagined threat, it sends all its energy to your muscles and temporarily suspends the need for food. Anxiety like this is really only designed as a short-lived thing, to get you out of danger.

So, if your stress or anxiety is more prolonged, it’s likely your appetite will be affected. The trouble is, when you’re stressed, it’s more important then ever to look after yourself and that includes eating regular, healthy meals. Try doing some relaxation exercises first before you eat so that you’re not feeling so anxious. Eat small, lighter meals and make sure you’re getting enough to drink. This will all help your body and mind function at its best, helping you to deal with whatever comes your way.

Tip 5 – Get Some Sleep

This can be a struggle for many people the night before school or college. You’re struggling to sleep because you’re anxious, and you keep checking the clock counting down the hours of sleep you’re going to be getting.

A good sleep routine will help reduce anxiety. Making sure you switch off phones and other devices half an hour before bed is the best option as blue light affects your sleep, but if you can’t do this then changing the settings on your phone to reduce blue light. Do something relaxing just before bed, consider having a routine to help you get ready such as a bath, playing a relaxing music playlist, or some meditation (apps such as Insight Timer have a multitude of different tracks to try).

Tip 6 – Distraction

Sometimes anxiety can make you feel like you must keep thinking about one particular thing and go over and over all the possibilities. In reality it’s unlikely that overthinking is going to be helpful here.

So, distracting yourself from the anxiety is often a good way to help relax your body and mind.

Find something you can get really engrossed in; a particular style of music , a great film, a hobby, a game of Minecraft. By distracting yourself with something you know you enjoy, you can start to calm your nervous system down.

Tip 7 – Get Some Support

If the anxiety is overwhelming you, try asking at school for some help. Most schools have pastoral support and will be experienced in helping young people with this kind of thing.

Alternatively there are online options like Kooth, an online wellbeing community specifically for young people. The Young Minds website also has lots of information about different issues you might be facing.

Check out my 5 Tips For Anxiety or 5 Ways to Calm Your Anxiety With Creativity for more information about coping with anxiety.

Amy is a counsellor specialising in neurodivergence and the founder of Newglade Counselling. She has created a team of neurodivergent counsellors who work online and face to face around Canterbury, Kent. Amy also provides parent support sessions, clinical supervision and delivers training in therapy and neurodivergence. For more information about our services contact us here

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