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Managing Back to School Anxiety in 2020

The year 2020 has been an unprecedented year. We are facing the COVID-19 pandemic coupled with ongoing racial trauma heightened by the murders George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery to name a few. The COVID-19 and racial trauma public health emergencies are enough to trigger depression and anxiety on their own. As we enter the back to school season, we are adding additional stress and anxiety to the mix. Returning to school or starting school can be a stressful, anxiety producing experience regardless of the circumstances. So of course, returning to school in the midst of a pandemic and racial injustices is uniquely stressful.

This year, “back to school” may mean returning to a physical classroom after abruptly transitioning to e-learning or continuing e-learning indefinitely. It may also mean deciding between starting college on campus or forfeiting the traditional on-campus experience that so many students look forward to and opting for e-learning in our parents’ home in the name of health and safety.

No matter what back to school means for you this season, give yourself grace. It is normal to feel anxious. It is okay to feel unsure about what is best for you as a student or your family members who are students. Going to school during a pandemic is a new experience for all of us. It is normal to feel anxious and to be concerned for your health. In addition to giving yourself grace, check out the tips managing back to school anxiety below:

Anxiety Management Techniques

Try a Grounding Exercise

If you or your child start to feel overwhelmed while considering your back to school plans, try the following grounding exercise:

5: Acknowledge FIVE things you see around you.

4: Acknowledge FOUR things you can touch around you.

3: Acknowledge THREE things you hear.

2: Acknowledge TWO things you can smell.

1: Acknowledge ONE thing you can taste.

Take Mindful Breaths

Mindful or paced Breathing is also useful in de-escalating stress and anxiety symptoms. Try a 4-7-8 paced breathing exercise:

  • Inhale through your nose for 4 counts
  • Hold for 7 counts
  • Exhale through your mouth for 8 counts. You may add a swoosh sound to your exhale for enhancement.

There are also other resources like the Liberate Meditation app and Black Girls Breathing that can help you practice mindful breathing.

Challenge Negative Thoughts

Negative thoughts can trigger symptoms of anxiety and may present as chronic rumination. It is important to challenge these thoughts with facts and reasonable plans.

Example: If I go back to school or send my kids back to school, I/they will get COVID-19.

Challenge: I will examine all available learning options. I will choose the option that works best for me and my family. If we choose to go back to the physical classroom, we will follow safety guidelines.

Follow CDC Guidelines

This is the best way to reduce your risk. Even if your school or peers are not following CDC guidelines, you can still protect yourself by wearing a face covering, practicing physical/social distancing, washing your hands, avoiding touching your face and monitoring your symptoms and/or our loved ones’ symptoms. Visit cdc.gov to learn more about staying safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Engage in Primary Health Care

If you do not already have a primary care provider, now is a more important time than ever to find one. If you are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, your primary care provider can triage your symptoms and order a COVID-19 test if necessary. A primary care provider can also help you maintain optimal health, thus reducing your risk for contracting COVID-19. For example, a primary care provider can help you manage conditions like asthma and diabetes. Both conditions increase your risk for COVID-19. Additionally, your primary care provider can help you manage anxiety by providing screenings, referral to treatment and medication management.

Embrace Technology

Many schools from kindergarten to doctoral programs are opting for online education or e-learning environments. Platforms such as Zoom, Canvas, Blackboard and Microsoft Teams are being utilized to provide an e-learning experience. If you are not familiar with these platforms, contact your school’s information technology department for assistance. There are also tutorials available on YouTube. Feeling prepared is a great way to reduce general anxiety and performance anxiety.

Are technology resources to include internet access limited in your area? Speak to local service providers in your error about increasing coverage. You may also request alternative learning arrangements. For example, some schools are offering hybrid learning schedules that include a mix of physical classroom and virtual learning experiences.

Ask for Accommodations

If you are at higher risk for COVID-19, you can request accommodations. For example, if you or your child’s immune system is compromised, you can request e-learning even if your school is prioritizing the physical classroom environment.

Also, if e-learning does not suit you or your child’s learning style, you can request accommodations. Many schools have student disability service centers that manage accommodation requests and offer diagnostic testing and management services for diverse learning abilities. Contact your school for additional information.

Above all, remember that you are resilient and equipped to handle the unknown. No matter what you or your family’s back to school plan looks like, we wish you a successful school year!  Be well and thrive!