4 Tips to Calm Back-to-School Anxiety

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Summer is winding down and your child is equipped with new school supplies, new clothes, and new shoes; that can only mean it’s time to head back to school.  Parents may be excited to rush the kids off to the classroom, but for many children with anxiety, the start of a new school year is terrifying and worrisome.

Children are often afraid of the first day of school and have questions about their new teacher, whether or not they’ll have friends, and fears of getting lost or not being able to find their way.  This type of fear and worry is actually quite healthy and a normal reaction to stressful situations.  But for some children, this worry becomes excessive, does not go away, and often gets worse.  When anxiety causes impairment and interferes with your child’s ability to function, this is a cause for concern.

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States, and 1 out of 8 children suffer from anxiety.  Though it is so common, anxiety disorders are highly treatable. 

So, what is anxiety? Anxiety is the body’s natural reaction to stressful, dangerous, or unfamiliar situations.  Normal, healthy anxiety allows our body to prepare for new situations or events and helps our body to stay alert and aware.  But for children and adults with an anxiety disorder, anxiety feels far from normal. 

Unless a person mentions that they feel anxious or nervous, anxiety can be hard to detect.  Young children usually aren’t able to pick up on their anxious feelings and say “I’m feeling anxious.” Quite often, anxiety displays itself as physical symptoms like stomachaches, nausea, rapid heartbeat, and headaches.

Research suggests that anxiety is caused by a variety of factors; including brain chemistry, genetics, and environmental triggers.  Some children have a genetic predisposition to anxiety, meaning their parents likely have it as well.  Sometimes anxiety disorders are developed following a traumatic situation; such as abuse, witnessing domestic violence, or the death of a loved one.  Other times, there seems to be no apparent reason or cause for anxiety disorders; it just happens.  Most commonly, anxiety is triggered by stress.  Preparing to go back to school following a long, relaxing summer is indeed stressful.

Here are 4 tips to calm back-to-school anxiety and make the transition easier for your child.

1.     Do not dismiss the anxiety.  A normal response to a child’s excessive worry and fear is to say “There’s nothing to be afraid of!”  This is especially true when, as adults, we know that the worry is REALLY nothing to worry about.  However, in a child’s mind, anxiety creates genuine fear.  During periods of anxiety, a child is unable to think rationally or logically.  Instead of trying to reason with your child, encourage your child to take long, deep breaths.  Doing so triggers reactions in the nervous system, allowing the body to calm down.

2.     Acknowledge your child’s feelings and fears.  Empathize with your child.  They need to know that you understand how they feel.  Normalize your child’s anxious feelings, letting them know that it is okay to worry.  Remind your child of situations where they have worried in the past and everything worked out fine.  Sometimes, children just need reassurance that everything will be okay.

3.     Express positive and realistic expectations.  As much as you want to tell your child “You’ll have tons of friends!” or “You’re going to love school!” that actually may not be the case.  Instead, remind your child that you believe in him/her and trust that they can handle this new experience.  Boosting your child’s confidence goes a long way in calming their anxiety.

4.     Prepare for the first day.  Drive by the school and check out the building.  Attend “Meet the Teacher” night which usually happens before school starts.  This gives your child an opportunity to meet their new teacher, see the classroom, and to make sure they know their way around.  Even take a small tour to show or remind them where the cafeteria and bathrooms are located and where they can find the counselor if they need help.  This simple step can do wonders for relieving your child’s anxiety, visually preparing them for what to expect.

If you continue to notice that your child is struggling with anxiety, you don’t have to suffer alone.  Restoring Serenity Counseling Center, PLLC can help you and your child recognize and combat anxiety disorders. 

-Sh'Niqua Speaks

The Elephant in the Room: The Stigma of Therapy in the African American Community

I’ve heard it so many times before… “I don’t need a therapist, I’m not crazy!”  “Counseling for what?? I’m just going to pray about it.  And that’s it.”

In my work with clients and their families, I’ve seen firsthand how therapy is truly the best thing to ever happen to them.  In today’s society, we need to have it all together, or at least appear to have it all together.  This mentality only makes asking for help so much more difficult.  Not sure about you, but I’ve yet to meet a perfect person with the perfect life, perfect spouse, perfect parents, perfect children, perfect health, perfect career…. I think you know where I am headed….

The reality is that most people who seek counseling do not have a serious mental health issue.  Most people seek counseling for work-related stressors, relationship conflict, or bouts of sadness.  You know, the regular stuff that we all go through in life, at one time or another.  (Or repeatedly, for many of us.)

When you mention you have a doctor’s appointment, no one thinks you’re weak.  When you tell someone you’re looking for an exterminator for an ant infestation, no one looks at you weird.  The norm in society is to see a professional when something isn’t “right” with our health, home, or even finances.  That is why there are personal trainers, financial advisors, plumbers, doctors, and attorneys; all people trained and skilled in their area of expertise.

But what about our mental health?  Isn’t that just as important?  Why is seeking a therapist different from seeking any other type of specialist?  Why are we, as a society, and more specifically, the African American community, so critical of a person who wants to see a therapist to restore their mental wellbeing?  These are questions that I would like you to ponder.

The stigma associated with therapy lives in fear, a lack of awareness, and sometimes just plain ignorance.  Please hear me out as I dispel what I believe are 5 of the most common misconceptions that people think about therapy.

Misconception #1: “Only weak and crazy people go to therapy.”  This is as far from the truth as it gets.  I believe the strongest and most courageous people go to therapy.  Can you imagine how difficult it must be to feel broken and empty inside, but muster up the strength to share your pain with a stranger?  I think that’s an amazingly resilient person.

Misconception #2: “All people who go to therapy are on medication.”  This is also not true.  Just because you see a therapist does not mean you must take medications.  In fact, I cannot prescribe any medications, I am not a medical doctor.  Therapy alone is an effective intervention for many common issues.  There are some mental health disorders that are best treated with a combination of therapy and medication management.  I talk to my clients thoroughly about these options and you decide what is best for your situation.  If you feel that medication is helpful, as your therapist, I will refer you to a psychiatrist to meet your needs.

Misconception #3: “People who go to therapy must not have friends or family to talk to.”  Let’s face it, friends and family members are often biased.  They can’t help it; they love you and only want what’s best for you.  As a result, they may not be able to see things from a different perspective or without taking your issues on as their own.  A therapist can recognize behaviors and thought patterns in an objective way.  Most importantly, mental health professionals have spent numerous years in school and thousands of clinical hours and supervision to be able to understand and address specific mental health issues, disorders, and diagnoses.

Misconception #4: “Therapy is for rich people.” Not true.  Simply not true.  Most often, therapy is covered by a carve-out through your medical insurance.  You often have a co-pay just like when going to a medical doctor or dentist.  Please do not discount therapy because you think it is unaffordable.  Many therapists provide a sliding scale option or have reduced fees that are based on your income.  There are a variety of options available to make therapy an affordable investment for your life.

Misconception #5: Okay… get ready for this one.  This is the big one.  “I won’t go to therapy because all I need to do is pray about it.”  I am a firm believer that prayer changes things.  Everything.  I have no doubt about it; I have seen how prayer works in my life and the lives of others around me.  Including my clients.  But why does it have to be mutually exclusive?? Why can’t you do both?  Does turning to prayer mean you can’t see a therapist as well?

If a doctor were to tell me that I have cancer, the first thing I would do is drop to my knees in prayer.  And after my prayer, I’m going to schedule an appointment with an oncologist; someone that is knowledgeable, understanding, and experienced in the form of cancer that I was diagnosed.  Just because you rely on prayer does not prevent you from also seeking other avenues of help in life.

I think we sometimes overlook the real causes of our ailments.  We’re broke and down to our last penny? So, we pray about it, but don’t budget. Overweight? Pray about it as we leave McDonald’s.

Please don’t misunderstand me.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with seeking prayer and having faith in God’s power, or the power of your Higher Being.  And if that is all that you choose to do about your situation, that is your choice. But it doesn’t have to be your only option.  And if others choose to seek other solutions that work for them, please do not discourage them.

Quite often, my prayers are answered by a specific person being placed strategically in my life to guide me in the right direction.  Could it be possible that your prayers to overcome a challenging time can be answered by a therapist that provides a genuine, open, and non-judgmental approach to help you address your barriers?  I would like you to ponder that question as well.

As a psychotherapist, I urge my clients to view therapy as a healthy way to invest in your mental wellbeing so you can be better equipped for the future.  It allows you to heal from past wounds, grow into the person you aspire to be, and teaches you how to thrive in life and relationships.  I am not here to convince you that therapy is the solution to everything; the reality is that it’s not.  But I’ve seen some amazing things come from a person’s commitment and diligence in therapy and I know that it can truly be life altering.  I only challenge you to have an open and optimistic mindset.  The next time you hear a person mention that they attend therapy or are contemplating therapy, please don’t beat them down.  Instead offer support, encouragement, and praise for attempting to make a positive change in their life.

-Sh'Niqua Speaks