September has rolled around and the lazy days of summer have come to an end. Suddenly you’re confronted with a new schedule, new people and different personalities, academic challenges, tests, and grades. While it’s not unusual to experience some anxiety when it’s time to go back to school, many returning students find themselves experiencing a more acute form of anxiety.
Students of all ages experience trepidation at back-to-school time. In fact, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America reports that more than 15 million adults suffer from some type of anxiety disorder.
Sometimes symptoms can be so severe that they disrupt everyday life. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) identified the following as just some of the symptoms of an anxiety disorder, which commonly co-occurs with Borderline Personality Disorder:
Anxiety Disorder Symptoms
- Anxiety about being/talking with other people
- Self-consciousness and embarrassment about being in front of other people
- Fear that they are being judged
- Excessive worry about everyday things
- Having trouble controlling constant worries
- Not being able to relax
- Having a hard time concentrating
- Have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep
- Dread regarding a future event where there will be other people
- Avoidance of places where they know there will be other people
- Difficulty making and maintaining relationships
- Physical discomfort around others such as blushing, sweating, trembling and nausea
Tips for Reducing Anxiety
To whatever extreme you are experiencing back-to-school anxiety, here are some tips to help reduce the stress of returning to class:
- Get Active. As a student, it can be tempting to dedicate all your time to challenges of the mind. Don’t forget that your body needs to be exercised as much as your brain does. According to the National Institutes of Health, physical exercise improves cognitive function of the brain, learning, and memory. Try to exercise three to five times a week, focusing on aerobic exercise that will send plenty of oxygen to your brain. You’ll feel better physically and mentally, and it will help you regulate your sleep patterns.
- Get Your Sleep. Sleep is very important in managing stress and anxiety. Failure to prioritize sleep can start a vicious circle, as lack of sleep causes stress and the resulting stress can make it difficult to sleep. Furthermore, it is well known that lack of sleep results in an inability to concentrate and properly focus, which can add to anxiety. It’s not breaking news that focus and concentration are of the utmost importance in succeeding at school. Avoid all-night study sessions. Foregoing sleep won’t do you any favors before that big test in the morning.
- Watch Your Diet. Students will often turn to stimulating substances like sugar, caffeine, and energy drinks to get through long study sessions. These substances are only wreaking havoc on the chemistry of the brain and are not providing the brain with the nutrients it needs to function properly. Research shows that sugary snacks increase the chemicals in your brain that cause anxiety. A handful of nuts or a cup of yogurt will give you more energy and stamina for studying and won’t cause extra anxiety.
- Study Outside. Being outdoors has a naturally relaxing effect. Studies show that natural light aids in focus, while the florescent lights so commonly found in learning institutions can actually have a stressful effect on some. Additionally, a deficiency of Vitamin D, or the “Sunshine Vitamin,” has been shown to affect cognitive function in older adults. The heat of summer may be gone, but if the sun’s out, grab a sweater and bring your books outside to soak up the Vitamin D.
- Meditate. Studies have shown that meditation and yoga result in a significant beneficial effect on those suffering from anxiety. In an article from the National Institutes of Health, meditation is described as “listening to the breath, repeating a mantra, or detaching from the thought process, to focus the attention and bring about a state of self-awareness and inner calm.” Most universities and colleges will have a student union where you can find information about groups that practice yoga and meditation. Otherwise, a simple Google search can provide information on local yoga centers, or how to start meditating on your own.
If your anxiety continues to get in the way of accomplishing everyday tasks, you might consider seeking help at a treatment center. Many centers and programs offer anxiety disorder treatment at different levels of time commitment. A professional at an anxiety disorder treatment center can help you determine what will work best for you in managing your anxiety and coping with it in a healthy way, so that you can get back to school and your life.