Archive of ‘Back to School’ category

Why Do Teens Have Back to School Anxiety?

If you are a parent of a teenager, you may have asked yourself this question a time or two. You probably think back to your high school days and wonder what is there to be anxious about? Take a deep breath and know that your teen isn’t the only one that has back to school anxiety. Teens have a lot more social and academic pressure than generations in the past. Things your teen may be thinking about in the weeks leading up to school are much deeper than not wanting to get up early or having homework again. Many teens find high school to be complicated part of life. Teens often have fun and enjoy seeing their friends, but it’s also full of rejection, confusing feelings, and self doubt. So why do teens have back to school anxiety? It could be a number of things, but here are a few topics that might cross their mind.

By: Savannah Stoute, LPC-Intern Supervised by Leslie Larson, LPC-S

Am I smart enough?

Academic pressures are on a completely different level compared to when I was in High School. They may receive this pressure from their parents and teachers, but in my experience, many teens put this pressure on themselves. Many teens believe they must compete academically at a much higher standard than the majority of their classmates, sometimes even better than students that are older than them. This belief is sometimes warranted because many colleges and universities admission requirements are much more strenuous compared to previous years.
Some things that colleges take into consideration and teens are concerned about include GPA, difficulty of curriculum, SAT/ACT scores, and even extra-curricular activities or volunteer service. With many universities receiving thousands of applications each year with nearly perfect grades, the competition level is tough.

Where do I fit in?

One of the more difficult aspects of Middle School or High School is finding where you fit it. This may be easy for some teens that are interested in theater or sports, but what about the teens that don’t fit into one very specific group? Part of you might want to tell your teen not to worry about it, but that will be easier said than done. You may have heard that a teenager’s most important relationships are their peer relationships; So finding ways to encourage your teen to follow their interest in order to find like minded peers that will accept your teen for who they are.

How do I look?

This isn’t always the most important thing to teens, but there are schools and peer groups that put more pressure on this topic than any other. A lot of the pressure comes from social norms. These days with Snap Chat and Instagram, a teen can get caught up into social media frenzy if they aren’t dressed to the nines. This isn’t always the experience of every teen. I’ve met many teens that are confidant in their style and dress the way they want no matter what their peers say. However, there are teens that value their peers’ opinions so much that their own self worth and self esteem is dependent on that acceptance. This also connects back to the previous topic of fitting in.

Your teens are going to be anxious about a hundred different things before school starts. You might hear about some of these things and you might not. Teens are notorious for keeping things from their parents, right? But if you think your teen is anxious, try asking curiosity questions or telling them about a time when you were anxious before starting a new job or school. These types of questions might inspire your teen to open up and they might not, but taking the chance and trying to connect is the most important thing.

Why do Teens have Back to School Anxiety?

Anxiety: Protective or Problematic?

By: Caitlyn Weeks, LPC-Intern Supervised by Lora Ferguson, LPC-S

By: Caitlyn Weeks, LPC-Intern
Supervised by Lora Ferguson, LPC-S

You step out into the street. Suddenly, you notice a car speeding toward you. Just in time, you move out of the way and into safety. Your brain, constantly monitoring situations has acted almost instantly to protect you.

This protective action is possible due to the way our brains have developed to respond over time. The older part of our brain is designed to help us in “survival mode” and focuses on preparing our bodies to fight, freeze, or flee. The newer part of our brain allows us to think logically, process emotions, problem-solve, and be self-aware. When our brains detect threat, the newer part of the brain goes “offline” and the older part of our brain takes control. Once we respond to the threat, our newer brain comes back online and we are again able to communicate and think flexibly, creatively, and rationally.

In terms of a speeding car, this process is obviously very useful. Sometimes, however, we perceive a situation that is not actually threatening in the same way. Think about that example of narrowly avoiding a speeding car. Close your eyes and imagine the sensations you would feel. Your heart might beat much faster than normal. Maybe you feel short of breath, dizzy, sweaty, or sick to your stomach. These are reactions our bodies have developed to keep us safe and alert and are very normal. Now imagine feeling these sensations when you are looking at a test or a crowded room full of people instead of an oncoming car. That’s anxiety.

These perceptions lead to us to feel tense, irritable, restless, tired, or shaky. Often, it can be difficult to concentrate, focus, and fall or stay asleep. When feeling anxious, we might not even notice some of our symptoms, because we are focused on what we think is happening or fear might happen. These perceptions can be disruptive in any setting – at home, at school, with friends and family. With school, this might mean we shut down during a test we prepared for or can’t fall asleep because we can’t stop thinking about the next day. Socially, we might stop doing things we used to enjoy, avoiding hanging out in groups, or responding to texts because it feels too overwhelming. When our fear or worry significantly interferes with our daily life, we describe it as anxiety.

HebbianYerkesDodson.svgIt’s important to note here that a little bit of academic or social anxiety can be helpful. For those of you who like psychology, this is known as the Yerkes-Dodson Law and looks like this:

The middle of this curve is where we do our best work, nail our performances, or even ask someone out on a date. Clinical anxiety kicks in to the right of the curve. If you find yourself to the right of the curve often (and you’re not just running around dodging cars on Mopac,), I’d recommend talking to a professional because there are many ways to manage anxiety – with and without medication.

I love working with anxiety because we can really bring a lot of creativity to the process. It’s always helpful to start with what’s already working (maybe just a little bit) and build on it. For example, you might notice a greater sense of calm when your favorite song is playing. From there, we can build a playlist to turn on when studying for that test. Maybe you are artistic and enjoy the feel of oil pastels on paper when your heart starts racing. We can create an art journal to explore ways to cope expressively. There are also wonderful ways to help our brains come back online once they’ve gone into fear mode – through breathing, mindfulness, progressive muscle relaxation, and guided imagery. In addition to coping strategies, it is important to explore those fears, thoughts, and things we say to ourselves when we feel anxious. When we name these fears in a safe space and develop an understanding of what’s involved, we can discover new tools to manage these feelings.


1 3 4 5 6