This time a year in my office I see teens and young adults worried about returning to school after summer break. Things that teens may be saying and facing are thoughts such as:
- Who will be my new teachers?
- What if my new teacher is mean, annoying, too hard on me?
- Will any of my friends be in my classes?
- Will I fit in, will my social group change or have conflict?
- Are my clothes, my backpack, my hair good?
- Will I look stupid?
- Who will I sit with at lunch?
- What if I can’t understand the new schoolwork or homework?
Here are the 5 tips to Help Teens Deal with Anxiety/Dread
1. Avoid giving reassurance...instead, problem-solve and plan! Many times teens don't want to sit and talk for extended periods of time, so making it count can be important. They often time want to hear validation for their thoughts and feelings, perhaps even some action plan steps to problem solve. Focusing on what they are saying rather than what you think may might want to hear is a very valuable note when it comes to communication.
2. Role-play with your teen. This may look different than actually acting things out, it may be just asking them imagining how they want the stressful event to go, having them visualize it in their mind, of all the ways that it might go "wrong" and figuring out solutions and then all the way it could go "right" and all the success they can have.
3. Focus on the positive aspects! School can bring a teen a lot of go and fulfillment if they and you focus on how they will be returning to their sport activities, or theater, or simply seeing their friends more often than over the summer. Shifting a teens perspective to all the great things that come with school can truly help them focus on the positive aspects of going to school.
4. Let up on the pressure. Most teens have their teachers, parents, peers and themselves laying on the expectations and pressure. If you're worried about your teens performance ask them what their own expectations for grades are, or what they think is a realistic amount of time to study. Then, hold them to that, and if things need to readjust have it be a conversation rather than a "this is what I expect of you" sort of message.
5. Encourage them to ask for help. Teens can get it in their head they know everything there is to know, or see asking for help as a weakness or a burden to others. By having them think, feel and behave this way without intervention keeps them closed off and shut down. If they can see others ask for support and help often, you are modeling healthy communication skills, and boundaries. Your teen is still learning, just like everyone is, so forget the whole "I'm an island" mentality if you want to have healthy relationships with others.
Being risk adverse is often seen as a cowardly way of dealing with life. Perhaps it turns into a list of pros and cons, and then later a list of rules in which to live by. Feeling as though things need to be measured in order to avoid error can become a source of neuroticism. Leaving making a decision especially and unplanned one may cause disruption in life.
There are three different emotional states that can influence decision making: Your current emotional state (i.e. How do you feel while you are making a decision?) Your past emotional state (i.e. How did you feel anticipating your decision?) Your future emotional state (i.e. How will your decision affect how you feel in the future; What effect will the decision have on your emotional well-being?). This can drive someone to not make a decision at all, or once they make one, continue to remake the same decision so the results are expected.
Bringing me to my point about how fear can lead to feeling a strong need to be in control, and stay in control in each circumstance that you can. This can often lead to issues like depression, anxiety, eating disorders, addictions, and overall poor mental health.
Which brings me back to the question "What are we giving up?" when we deeply want control, to avoid risk, to have nothing unplanned? Off the top, happiness, the willingness to be flexible, cooperative with others, freedom to make a mistake, failing forward, and so many other positive things that can bring more peace.
Yet, those that are risk averse won't allow themselves to experience these things due to the fear of not being in control is so overwhelming.
Here are some things to practice to be less risk averse/controlling:
1. Practice trusting yourself
2. If you make a mistake, remember you are doing the best you can
3. Remind yourself the world won't fall apart when you let go of control
4. Allow others to help you manage things/help you
5. Try something different the next time a decision needs to be made
While summer can be so bright and happy for many, it may also have other tasks or mindsets associated with it, such as; time to take a vacation, time to reorganize my life so winter will be less stress, time to go outside in less covering clothes, time to have more fun, time when the kids are at home, etc. With all of that may come stress about finances, anxiety/anticipation to figure things out, body shame, time management stress and possibly other feelings about keeping up with the Jones'.
When we have exactions for ourselves and for others we are setting ourselves up to be disappointed at times, and acknowledging that as an inevitable situation is key. The question than comes then to, what is reasonable to anticipate or expect, perhaps its that we are doing the best we can, and so are other people. The pressure to afford a huge summer family vacation or sign our kids up for activities or get our bodies in the best summer shape or reorganize our life during "downtime from school" can have angles or edges that don't feel so great. Perhaps it feels overwhelming, anxious from anticipation, or full of guilt and shame.
Of course Mindfulness is always a go-to, just sit with your emotions and let yourself experience them without holding too much attachment to your thoughts and the situations that present themselves. Practicing this can help you separate yourself from the thoughts, feeling and behaviors, while taking ownership for them. However that can feel perhaps a little too contained or intellectualized for some people. Also, its unrealistic for us to do that all the time, and we may find ourselves judging ourselves from falling away from that practice. Its bound to happen, taking a non-judgmental stance to both yourself, and the world around you can be incredibly beneficial as you radically accept the here and now for exactly what it is. Because we are creatures of habits, and we will become overly emotional and unwound at times, let that happen from time to time. Lets face it, we can't be perfect, and we will find ourselves landing left or right of center.
Let your children make mistakes, let yourself and your partner make mistakes. If you fall short of making that magical vacation happen, or slim down to that certain size, or don't prepare yourself for going back to school in exactly the way you wanted to, or all the other summer goals you've created, thats okay. Enjoying your time, and your space each day is what makes a life worth living.