New Year, No Fear: How to Manage Back to School Anxiety

by Matthew Perlman, PhD

The phrase “back to school” can conjure up quite a few different reactions in students: dread, excitement, or  anticipation to name a few. One common feeling associated with the new school year is anxiety. This post is all about handling the nerves that can sometimes hamper the return to high school or college.

  • Expect change

If the last 2+ years have taught us anything, it’s that we have to learn to expect change. Hopefully, we won’t have to face any shifts as dramatic as lockdowns and sudden switches to remote learning, but we can expect to face all kinds of small-scale shake ups and adjustments to our plans. By rolling with (instead of fighting against) change, it’s much easier to tolerate (and even embrace) a bit of anxiety.

  • Start early

As part of anticipating moments of change or adversity, we can actively plan for some (though not all) of these challenges. For example, if you know you’re taking a difficult course in your worst subject this semester, start looking into attending office hours or tutoring early in the semester, before midterms sneak up on you. In situations like this, an ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure.

  • Lean on others

Finally, it’s important to know that you’re not alone in dealing with stress. Connecting with friends and family regularly can offer a real recharge from back to school stress. For students starting at a new school, the pressure to find friends can be its own source of anxiety. In these situations, putting yourself in routine contact with others (especially those with shared interests) is a great starting point. It’s important to keep expectations managed – remember that not everyone finds their ideal friend group on day one.

With the right mindset and preparation, going back to school can feel a lot more manageable. We hope that these tips get your school year started off on the right track, no matter what obstacles come your way.

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