We know that for kids and teens with anxiety and depression, going back to school can be hard. In fact, rates of hospitalizations and even suicide spike in August through September.
BEHAG.org is on a mission to reduce anxiety, depression, and suicide to all-time lows by 2028.
Here are some ways to help you and your child cope with back-to-school anxiety:
- Realize it’s OK not to be OK. Everyone feels anxious or blue at times.
- Reach out. Talk to a parent, teacher, counselor or other trusted adult. You are not alone!
- Practice coping strategies. Breathe, listen to music, write in your journal, watch a funny movie, go out with a friend. Think about what has helped you feel better in the past and do it.
- Know the signs for when your blue mood has become something more. Don’t be afraid to ask for help!
If you are in crisis, call 1-800-273-8255 or text “MHA” to 741741 to speak to someone confidentially, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
For parents of an adolescent with anxiety or depression
You can’t take away their feelings, but you can help your child make sense of them. Here are a few important tips:
- Talk, talk talk. Don’t take your child’s silence as an indicator that there isn’t a problem. Teenagers are notorious for replying “fine” when mom or dad asks “How was your day?” Creating a family rule of “No one-word answers” can help. Allowing kids to write out their feelings to a parent in a shared journal is another way to help the child who is reluctant to share.
- Validate their feelings. Express empathy. Let him/her know that his/ her feelings are completely normal. Resist the urge to preach, tell them it’s not a big deal, or try to solve the problem. If your child gets over-emotional, allow them to vent, then redirect the conversation to more positive self-talk. Don’t tell them to “calm” down or stop crying. When we talk about feelings (in a non-judgemental way) we demonstrate our concern, as well as keep our finger on the pulse of our child’s mental health.
- Don’t forget the basics. Simple things have big importance, such as getting enough sleep (especially crucial for teens), eating healthy, and having a routine.
- Know the warning signs when normal back-to-school jitters are something more that needs the help and guidance of a professional.
Tips from a Mom Therapist
In her book Coping Skills for Kids Workbook: Over 75 Coping Strategies to Help Kids Deal with Stress, Anxiety and Anger, mental health counselor and mom to two Janine Halloran offers parents and caregivers suggestions for managing students’ anxiety. Here are a few of her top tips:
- Deep breathing with a pinwheel. Most of us have heard of deep breathing, even utilized it ourselves. Deep breathing boosts the oxygen to our brains and releases endorphins (the feel-good hormones). Deep breathing releases stress and helps the body and mind relax. Halloran’s variation on this important practice adds a pinwheel to the exercise. Have your child draw in a deep breath through their nose, then release it slowly through pursed lips--keeping the pinwheel turning as long as possible. Repeat until a sense of calm and control returns. Similarly, try deep breathing with bubbles for a fun twist!
- Get moving. Jump rope, bounce or kick a ball, or play with the dog. Whatever gets your child up and moving and their heart pumping will help dispel anxiety in the body. If the activity involves going outside, all the better. Studies show that just looking at trees and green spaces for two minutes reduces stress and anxiety (including heart rate and blood pressure, a benefit no matter what your age). Dancing is a great option too. The movement helps release pent-up stress and irritability, while up-beat music is a proven mood- booster.
- Start a Journal. There are several ways kids and teens can use journaling to decrease anxiety and support healthy mental health. Listing things that make them happy or that they are grateful for is one great way. Studies have shown that simply reflecting on happy times and things we love is as beneficial than actually doing them. Another idea is to record feelings and track their stress. Writing things down in a journal can help teens get in touch with their feelings, and learn to listen to themselves and their bodies. Guide your child to ask themselves questions such as, What upset me? What happened before that? What did I do about it? Did that make me feel better or worse? What could I do differently?
Remember, some anxiety is normal when going back to school, and isn’t always a negative emotion. It can help students get motivated and move into action. However, too much anxiety, or anxiety that affects other aspects of life, needs to be addressed.
Talking with your child, helping them identify and work through their negative emotions, and seeking professional help when needed, can help make sure this school year is their best one yet!
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