Saturday, August 28, 2010

Back to School Anxiety

Time once again to get out the backpacks, lunch boxes, pencils, and erasers. All over, students are getting ready to go back to the classroom. While some excitedly anticipate the first day of school, others look on that day with dread. Here are three strategies to help your nervous student (or yourself, all you adult learners out there!) face the first day:

1. Remember a time you faced a great anxiety-inducing task, and did it anyway.

A favorite personal example of mine was the time I jumped off the high-diving board. I was probably 8 or 9 years old, and I really wanted to jump off the high dive. I had climbed to the top of the stairs several times, each time getting a little farther down the board before turning back. After several attempts, I finally inched my way to the end of the board. It felt like my heart was beating in my stomach. The fear made me want to turn back, but I told myself: I've come this far, just jump. And I did. We can't feel brave without feeling fear first.

2. Find someone else to commisserate with.

Anxiety dislikes company. Talk to another friend or student about first-day jitters. Perhaps you'll find you're not alone. For some, hearing yourself say, "I feel anxious" actually takes away some of the anxiety's power.

3. Focus on a positive counterfactual.

I must give credit to Allison Gopnik's book, "The Philosophical Baby" for introducing me to the "counterfactual". The term "counterfactual" describes mental play where one imagines what could be or what might have been. Anxiety produces counterfactuals in which one experiences minor discomfort to horrible catastrophe. Consider other counterfactuals other than the ones anxiety would describe, such as: "This year I will make a new friend", or, "This year I will excel at math." Throughout the first day, focus on signs that your counterfactual is coming true.

Welcome back to school!