Easing Back to School Anxiety for High School and College Students

Welcome back to school!  It’s a perfect time for you to have a fresh start and strong motivation.  To make sure worry and anxiety don’t get in the way of all you are about to take on this year, let’s review how to make the most of it.

Know Your Resources

It is ok to ask for help! In fact, just having the skill of being able to know when and how to ask for help will guarantee you many opportunities for success. All schools are set up for providing you extra help if and when you need it. So get to know what your school specifically has to support. To get you started, I have a few listed out for you.

  • High School: social worker, psychologist, dean, counselor, teachers, coach, local library, mentoring program, extracurricular groups
  • College: Health services, local counselors, Skype with your therapist back home, mentoring programs, resident advisor (RA), professors, tutors, library personnel, student life groups like To Write Love on Her Arms (TWLOHA)

Set Your Boundaries

School is both a social and academic environment. Setting boundaries will help you get the most out of both of these functions. By creating boundaries, you are giving yourself the opportunity to enjoy both aspects. For example, if you know that you have a class that will be extra hard, maybe set the boundary that you will not sit near a friend who you will easily get distracted with. However, you might decide to allow yourself to study with that friend to prepare for a test in that class.

Some other topics/questions to ask when considering boundaries:

  • Is your lunch or break time for social or academic?
  • Do you feel better when all of your work is done before socializing?
  • Are you comfortable sharing notes or homework with your friends or peers?
  • When during your day do you feel is better to be more focused on academics?
  • When during your day do you feel is better to be more focused on social?
  • How many extra-curricular activities are you most comfortable joining?
  • When are you going to say “no” to friends and peers?
  • Smart phone and social media use
  • Personal structure and self-care
  • Dating
  • Study habits
  • Organization of school work

Know Your Goals

Give yourself the opportunity to sit down and write out (on actual paper) what your goals are for this school year. You can even take it a step further and create a vision board from this list. Refer to this throughout the year to “ground” yourself and assess your progress. Make sure to keep the goals to less than 10, otherwise it is easy to get overwhelmed. It’s possible to break these down to smaller more manageable steps. You can make both social and academic goals. Having goals “declared” like this allows you to have clearer focus and even the option to share them with your supporters to cheer you on and keep you accountable.

Use Tools To Keep Your Focus

You are never alone in your goals, and the proof for that is with all of the tools available – so use them!  Find what works best for you, because everyone is different. I have a few options listed below:

  • Have a planner to keep school/life balance
  • Make a playlist to keep you motivated (or switch out playlist for mantra or inspirational quotes.)
  • Know how to recharge yourself in a healthy way during a break or the weekend
  • Smartphone apps for support, planning, or inspiration
  • Journaling
  • Keep pictures around to remind you of your goals
  • Find a ted talk or similar you can watch throughout the school year that reminds you of why you are working so hard this school year.  Watch it at least once a month – put it in your planner!

Celebrate Your Successes

Any progress is worth celebrating. This doesn’t necessarily mean throwing a party for every homework assignment you turn in, but even a simple acknowledgement to yourself is a way to identify your hard work. This might be a good boundary to look at. It’s so easy to get down on yourself for getting a lower grade or not meeting your own expectation, so let’s flip that and instead practice giving yourself credit where credit is due. There will always be room for improvement, and that is just something to accept. Beware of striving for perfection! This is a slippery slope and will drain you of much needed energy.

Some ways to celebrate:

  • Say it out loud to a friend or family member
  • Draw a fun picture around the assignment or test in your planner
  • Plan a fun activity
  • Share with your teacher or someone who helped you reach the goal
  • Write about your success in a journal
  • Smile and let people know why you are smiling
  • Dance – maybe even pick a special song that you can play for any of these successes
  • Check off on your goals list