3 Tips for Managing Worries About the Upcoming School Year
As summer winds down, many people are filled with worries of the upcoming school year. Whether you’re starting third grade, high school, or college, thinking about the unpredictable can bring feelings of anxiety and fear. This may be related to making friends, managing the workload, or adjusting to the change of having a busier schedule. I like to think of these feelings as a more extreme version of the “Sunday Scaries”.
Planning ahead for the school year is one of my favorite ways to decrease anxiety or stress, and feel a bit more confident in your ability to manage these stressors. I have a few skills I love sharing with clients (and using personally!) to take into this transition period. This way, you have a few tools in your pocket to not only increase your confidence as school begins, but also to manage stressful situations as they come up throughout the year. Some of the tips I find most helpful for regulating emotions are from Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) which was created by Dr. Marsha Linehan. DBT is all about finding a balance between acceptance and change, which is perfect for stressful transitions – allowing oneself to accept that anxiety will be part of doing something unknown, and also challenging oneself to adaptively navigate these stressors. Here’s a few of my favorite skills for this:
I love acronyms. Sometimes skills can be lengthy and hard to remember, so acronyms can make them easier to pick up on. The idea behind this skill is that by taking care of your basic needs, you will be able to make wiser decisions and better regulate emotions when issues come up.
PL – (treat) physical illness
E – Eat balanced
A – Avoid mood-altering drugs
S – Sleep
E – Exercise
Essentially – when your basic needs are met, your mind and body are able to handle a lot more!
2. Check the Facts
While it’s much easier said than done, a great way of soothing any worries is considering the facts of a situation. This means using your full awareness to identify the facts of the situation, and consider if your emotional or behavioral reaction is appropriate. One way to do this would be to compassionately ask yourself a few questions about the situation (e.g. What emotions am I noticing? What am I worried is happening? Am I assuming a threat? Am I currently in danger?).
This doesn’t mean you need to tell yourself that you’re being “overdramatic”. Rather, use the information that you identified to mindfully take a step back, and approach the situation with a whole-picture perspective. This can be tough, but can result in a more helpful, successful reaction.
3. Opposite Action
Emotions often try to take control and dictate how you should react or behave because of that emotional experience. However, when we allow this to happen, we can fall into the cycle of negative thoughts reinforcing that emotion, which leads to extreme emotions reinforcing unhelpful or dangerous behaviors. In order to break the cycle, we want to do the opposite of what we may instinctually do when experiencing that emotion.
For example, you may feel anxious when being partnered up with someone in class who you don’t know. Thoughts of them not wanting to be paired with you, judging your knowledge, or other similar worries could come up. This could lead to avoidance of that person or class. Instead of falling into this cycle, I urge you to consider getting out of your comfort zone and be the one to make plans to work on that project together. With opposite action we don’t want to take baby steps, but rather, do the opposite action all the way through. That means, don’t just reach out once to introduce yourself and return to avoidance – keep going! I know – way easier said than done. But give it a try, you may surprise yourself.
Remember, the key for these tips is to be intentional. These tips can help decrease self-invalidation and foster self-compassion while tackling the stress of school. I encourage you to practice these tips in preparation for this upcoming school year, or share them with your child if applicable. If you’re interested in your teen learning similar skills to manage the stress of school, consider having them join me for DBT group Thursdays at 5pm!