Do you remember the Staples (Office Store) commercial that had a father joyfully riding his shopping cart down the aisle to “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” while his two kids trailed behind, hunched over in dread and dragging their feet? This clip runs through my mind every time we enter the first week of the back to school shuffle.
While I know there are many parents who rejoice at the thought of their children returning school (and with it more structure, socialization, and space from home!) the majority of adults I know are usually in just as much if not more tension than their children. This tension seems to be made up of more than just one identified feeling. What I normally see and hear about is what I call the “anxiety-grief-excitement cocktail!” Cheers…
Even if you do not have children returning to school or are not a teen yourself getting ready to step back into the locker-class-lunch routine, you may still be feeling the more excited and anxious energy of this year. If you’re thinking, “That rings true. But why?” Give these ideas some thought…
You may have followed the same sort of routine for a solid portion of your life. If you regularly experienced the A.G.E. cocktail around the start of school, your all-grown-up system may still have this timer running. Try to notice what goes on in your mind and body when you see a school bus or a single child walking to school.
You may know people going back to school or folks who have children returning to grade school and college. If these people are feeling anxious, chances are these feelings have been transmitted to you through conversations and behaviors. Whether we mean to or not, sometimes when we experience anxiety we try to bring others in on it. Our anxious brain thinks that by inviting others to the party, we’re relieving ourselves from what can be a high intensity emotion but the truth is, we’re not. We’re just making it multiply.
And even if you run in circles with people who don’t care to share a sip of their A.G.E., this is still a cultural time of transition. Any business that caters to kids, teens, and families knows that this is a major money making season. So they and their employees are hustling and their marketing team is bombarding our brains with stimuli. Long story short, we are all invited to the start of the back to school season.
If you’re anything like me, your first instinct may be to swat away any A.G.E. feelings that arise around the thought of the first day of school, whether you’re noticing these thoughts and feelings in yourself or someone else. But as we know, all this does is feed the feelings that keep us so wound up!
Let’s try something different! Let’s recognize that when we’re feeling this way it’s for a reason: we are about to start something new. Sure, we’ve prepared for new school years before but every stage and season is different. Our brain, try as it might, cannot completely map out what the year ahead is going to look like. So really, our brain is trying to do us a favor. It’s trying to make sense of what’s to come, even though it doesn’t have all the pieces to the puzzle. Thank you brain. How would we ever survive without you??
So going forward with the knowledge that this is actually not a life or death situation, we can look at our feelings or the feelings our kids may be dealing with, with curiosity and without the goal of making them go away. Here’s an idea for how a conversation about these feelings might go…
We’re about to start a new school year. What do you think about that?
I think it will be ______________ (fill in the thought: awesome/weird/AWFUL/really fun/cool/etc…)
Now this is where with a negative thought we might be tempted to say “It will be alright” or “You’re going to be fine. Don’t be ____________.” Instead try…
What part of this new year will be (named thought)?
Encourage the person you’re talking with to be as specific as possible. Is it not having enough time between classes, getting up early, having somewhere to sit at lunch, a new teacher?
So when you think about that how do you feel? (This helps illustrate that our feelings and thoughts are not one in the same.)
I feel ____________. (You guessed it. Fill in the feeling: nervous/a little scared/petrified/sad/mad/kind of excited/etc…)
Is there anything you notice going on in your body when you feel (named feeling)?
Examples of physical reactions: My stomach is jumpy, I’m breathing really fast, I start yawning, My hands are sweaty.
Wow. Your body does a really good job of letting you know it’s feeling something.
Again, when our body starts sending us signals the tendency is to reassure it that nothing bad is going to happen. Let’s try something different…
(Continuing) OK. So let’s just let your body and brain know that you’ve picked up on the signals “Thanks B & B. Now I know that you’re feeling (named feeling.)” So, let’s taking a minute to think through this (named feeling) situation and come up with a few different ways we can respond…”
And that’s it! We can try our best to trouble shoot and come up with some practical problem solving ideas but we are not going to try and make the feeling disappear. This helps us to learn that our thoughts and feelings are welcome but are not always allowed to drive the bus.
And speaking of busses, I hope that you start this year off with the openness to feel what you feel, the curiosity to learn, and the support to grow.
PS- Here are some extra resources for the back to school season!
The Emergency Communications Network: http://ecnetwork.com/code-ed/anti-bullying-hotline.php
Baltimore Public Schools, Office of School Counseling: http://www.bcps.org/offices/school_counseling/
Coping with Back To School Anxiety: http://www.anxietybc.com/parenting/helping-your-child-cope-back-school-anxiety