8 Ways To Prepare for the Semester & Reduce Back-to-School Anxiety
August is pretty well-known as “Back to School” month, unless you’re in the lucky group of students who get to go back after Labor Day. Either way, school is upon us, and it’s common to have jitters about getting back into the swing of academics. Back-to-school anxiety is a popular topic every year, so whether you’re getting nervous about going back, you’re not the first, and you won’t be the last! How do we deal with the back-to-school dread? We prepare. If you set yourself up for success at the very beginning, you can help curb your anxiety and maybe even get a little bit excited about jumping into the new school year.
Ways to Reduce and Calm Anxiety When Prepping for School
1. Get (and use) a planner. Having a single place where you can make notes and keep track of your schedule is an incredible tool for any student, especially those with anxiety. With a planner, you don’t have to stress about magically remembering every single thing the semester throws at you. All you have to do is open your planner and read your notes. Have that planner out on your desk in every class, open while you’re doing homework, and easily handy wherever you go. If something comes up that sounds important or has a specific deadline or requirement, write it down immediately. You’ll be glad you did later. This doesn’t have to be a chore! Have fun with it. Get a cute one with a pattern you love or find a blank notebook and make it your own. Use colorful pens or keep it simple with a pencil. Whatever suits your aesthetic! Some high schools and colleges actually make and sell planners that are personalized to their semester schedule, which can be really helpful in knowing when important school events or holidays are going to be. Whatever you choose, get a planner, and use that planner every day.
2. Collect all your syllabi, read them carefully, and write the major deadlines in your planner. That first week of school is always info dump, which can be mind-numbing and intimidating. Fear not! Most teachers give out a paper syllabus or post one online that defines their expectations for the semester. Gather up all those packets, sit down with a cup of coffee and your planner, and study. Make notes of what your teachers expect of you, and write down anything that seems important. This should make you feel like you’re an expert student, which will be true because you’re officially more prepared for the class than 75% of the other students.
3. Meet all your teachers, and maybe even get to know them. Deep breaths. You can do it. Just walk up to them at the beginning or end of class one day and say, “Hi, my name is ___, and I just wanted to introduce myself to you personally. Looking forward to your class. Have a nice day!” Breaking that ice at the beginning of the year will make it so much easier to approach them if you have a question or need help later. Take it a step further and visit them during their office hours every once in a while! Having a healthy relationship with your teacher can do wonders for classroom anxiety and school jitters down the road.
4. Create a morning routine. Sometimes the hard part is just getting to school in one piece. Use that planner again, and write down a list of 5 things you do every morning before school so that when your alarm clock goes off tomorrow morning, you don’t have to decide--you just know that you’re going to wake up, go for a 20-minute run, shower, get dressed, eat breakfast and walk out the door, all while listening to your favorite podcast. Make sure this routine involves something you enjoy, even if you hate waking up. Starting the day with something easy and just for you can get you ready to handle whatever comes your way.
5. Have a plan for when those anxious feelings hit you. No matter how much you prepare, anxiety comes in waves. Instead of being surprised when it visits you, create a calming routine for when you feel those nerves rushing to the front of your mind. Write this plan down (in your handy dandy planner) and flip to that page when the time comes. Maybe your plan is to breathe, stretch, drink water, call or text a friend, remind yourself of some important truths, or take a quick walk around the block. Whatever it is, give yourself permission to practice it when you need to, whether you’re in the middle of class or at the library.
6. Rely on your support system. You’re not alone. If you have friends you can trust to support you when you’re anxious, talk to them about when you feel you need the most support. Would a “Good morning! You’ve got this!” text help you get your day started? Ask for one! You may also have access to a counselor through your school or be able to talk to your doctor about ways to mitigate extreme anxiety. Don’t feel the need to hide or bottle these anxious thoughts, and don’t be afraid to ask for help from those who are available to support you.
7. Create an “end of the school day” routine. You just walked out of your last class. You did it. You made it through the day. That bubble of anxiety has popped, and it’s time to wind down. Just like you need some time to yourself in the morning, you deserve a moment to breathe at the end of the day. Maybe you and your besties head to Starbucks for an hour. Maybe you go to the gym and listen to all your new Spotify recommendations. Maybe you go to your room and take a nap before you get started on your homework. Whatever it is, make it something you can look forward to each day, and don’t forget… write it in your planner!
8. Plan fun activities for the first few weekends. Having plans for the weekend is an amazing way to motivate yourself through the worst anxiety days! Don’t slog through a tough week of school and then stew in your dread about the next week for all of Saturday and Sunday. Do something you’ll enjoy! Check out the local farmers or artists' markets in your town. See a new movie. Invite people over to watch your favorite sports team or play a nerdy game together. Knowing that good times are always ahead, you’ll feel less trapped by the ever-present school stress and more able to let school be a neutral part of your life.
School Anxiety Is Real But Not Permanent
The most important thing to remember when you’re overwhelmed with academic or social anxiety is that you’re not alone. Look around the room you’re in, and it’s almost guaranteed that more than a few of your classmates are experiencing similar worries. Take a deep breath. Remember your plan for these anxious moments, and go through the motions of that routine. If you’ve tried these tips for making the new school year a little less stressful and still aren’t feeling confident, reach out to us at TheHopeLine! Any of our coaches would be happy to chat with you about strategies and resources for helping you face the stress of starting school.
For more on coping with stress and anxiety, watch this personal video story by our friend Karissa: "Mental Health: How I Cope with Anxiety"