School can give many kids incredibly bad school anxiety. I know that my children have been very anxious for over a week. It is only the third day of school. Honestly, their stories are giving me a bit of high school PTSD. From missing supplies, schedule mishaps, and teachers that are trying to manage 28 teenagers in a classroom, back to school is tough. The lunchroom situations are giving me the most school anxiety, but I digress. Let’s move on before I must stop writing and go do neurofeedback training immediately.
True Story About School Anxiety (Yikes)
Yesterday, my daughter was upset about school. Without me knowing of course, because she was holding it all in. If you have ever held something in, you know that it is only a matter of time until it comes out. My precious daughter changed her schedule a little while back to take a variety of Advanced Placement courses instead of regular level. She was getting excited about it and helping her gear up for another arduous school year (in her mind).
School has always been very anxiety provoking for her, so this was a big change in a positive direction. The social aspect drains her so she really wanted to have courses that she could think about. When my daughter picked up her schedule the first day of school, she was not enrolled in those AP courses. She was in courses she would have to slog through and was devastated.
If your child is struggling with school due to anxiety, read the tips below to help ease the anxiousness and settle into a better school routine. Heck, the tips apply to you too, so read on.
Letting school anxiety out is healthier for your brain. Don’t hold it in.
The first impulse for most people who suffer from anxiety is to hold difficult emotions in. When you do this, you are internalizing the anxiety and having it build up in your brain. This fast energy (High Beta) will build up and cause mental and physical symptoms. Feelings of stress, impulsiveness, stomach aches, headaches, and finally depression can result. You do not want to hold it in for long.
Talk to Someone Who Will (Actually) Listen
Letting it out helps to bring the fast energy down and the brain to stay in better territory of middle ground. How to do this? In the healthiest version you can talk with a loved one who will listen. Really listen. Someone who can be with you in your struggle. If you don’t have someone to listen, you can write in a journal. Even getting your feelings out on paper can help to diffuse them. If you are struggling significantly, then a counselor can be a great listening ear who can give you good solid advice.
Exercise is another healthy way to release the anxious fast energy. Taking a run, lifting weights, and moving your body can release the energy for you and bring you back down to a healthier place. I run every day, as a preventive measure.
Have a Good Old-Fashioned Melt Down
Freak out, shout, cry, throw your body around on the floor, there is nothing like a good melt down. I don’t recommend melt downs, per se, but they are better for you than holding in all those negative emotions that can eat away at you. If your child does not have the capacity to talk about it, or perhaps you don’t have the capacity to listen about it (cue self-reflection here), then have some understanding that the melt down is necessary for your child in this moment. Approach the meltdown with kindness and understanding.
When one of my kids has a melt down, I let it run its course and then I hit the pause button on my life to just be there for them. This is what I do. I figure it out WITH them, not for them, or worse without them.
Make a Plan for Success to Reduce School Anxiety
This is what I told my daughter. School is a two way street with 2 major variables to consider. We need to figure out these two things together: (1) Get you into classes that you find engaging and (2) Help you engage with them. Boom! This equals a plan for success.
Make School Engaging
This one might be difficult for parents to wrap their minds around, but I have to say it. If your child has massive amounts of anxiety about going to school or the idea of their school in general, perhaps your child’s school is not a great fit for him or her. I am not saying to yank them out of their school, but I am saying explore the variables within the school experience that are challenging for your child and change those variables within their school to decrease anxiety. My daughter’s school is not a great fit for her, but we don’t really want to make a switch right now either. If success is not an option in the current school, possibly consider other schooling options.
What does success look like, you might ask? Ask your child. What parts of school are hard and why? What would make it easier, better? Then JUST LISTEN. Don’t speak until you’ve digested that information well. Make the success plan together.
Practice Engaging within an environment that you find off-putting.
Ok, I wish we never had to go into environments that we find “off-putting”. Honestly, as an adult I have made the conscious decision to avoid such environments, for my own mental and physical health. Every time I find myself accidentally in a toxic environment, I regret my decision to have ended up there. Anyway. As students in school, your child is mandated to attend. So, it is your role as parent to help nurture that environment for your child. Difficult, I know. I have done it, multiple times. Out of the box thinking may be required.
But, once you find an enjoyable, or at least tolerable, environment, your child has to skill build in the department of engagement. Stressful situations can help you become stronger, if you approach them right. Find out how in this post on using stressful situations to improve your brain’s performance. I have also helped my kids do this, multiple times. Here is the trick toward helping your child self-regulate. Do it with them and for them.
Use Your Brain to Help Regulate Your Child’s
Yesterday I continued to maintain a calm demeanor (while feeling a bit stressed) to help my daughter calm herself down. I repeated, slowly and deliberately, with lots of love, what we were going to do. We were going to figure it out together. Make a plan for success, together. Not be stuck in a plan that isn’t working. That alone helped her feel better. She even repeated aloud a few times, “plan for success”, so I knew I was getting in. Then together we made a first plan of attack, email her counselor to get her classes switched, while remaining open to other plans. Thankfully, Plan A worked and she is feeling better today. Better… not great. But…better is better, am I right? Baby steps.
How Do I Help Others Overcome Anxiety?
The fundamental elements of helping a person to regulate themselves as best as they can in an anxious situation is to stay calm, use Low Beta brain speed, not High Beta stress speed. Have your child help you figure out and agree to the next action steps. Don’t do a whole bunch of things that makes them more anxious. Approach the situation together. You help them. Support. Be open to other plans if the first one does not work. This will help decrease anxiety. If you are not achieving success, then you might want to seek out professional help.
If none of these tips work and you feel like the anxiety has gotten to extreme levels then it might be time for more support. My awesome team at Leigh Brain & Spine can help arrange a qEEG Brain Map to see how your child’s brain is performing and Neurofeedback therapy for anxiety to shift the brain into a better performance mode and keep it there for success.
For Neurofeedback Experts
When children struggle with school anxiety their brain is producing much too much high beta extra fast brain speed. Most likely their brain is stuck in High Beta all of the time and is shifting slightly higher while in the school environment. A qEEG Brain Map will show you this information. This overdrive mode can spiral a child out of control. When the brain is cranking away in extra fast gear, it is difficult to calm down. Step one is to calm the brain down by reducing high beta. Simultaneously, or sometimes subsequently, increasing Alpha medium speed will help the brain shift into a calmer, more relaxed, yet still focused mode.
The Science Supporting Neurofeedback
A review of studies conducted in 2017 show that Neurofeedback has shown improvement in bran functioning and in symptoms for people with generalized anxiety and trauma above no treatments and treatments as usual. Treatments as usual were indicated to be pharmacological or talk therapy. When Neurofeedback was added, clinical gains were seen. Specifically, Neurofeedback was shown to increase Alpha, medium brain speed, production for greater feelings of calm.
How Can I Help Provide More Support for School Anxiety?
One way to help your client receive more specific help at school is to encourage them to talk to the school counselor about their child’s specific school anxiety. The school counselor is trained to listen to discern what the underlying issues might be, perhaps better than mom or dad, and to identify ways to help in the classroom and across the school day. One easy accommodation that I have recommended for years is to get the school to allow the child breaks from the routine during his or her day. Just being let out of the social aspect of the day to let their nervous system come down, literally, can help the child thrive at school and not just survive. Other tips for success are available here.
Like I always say, #controlyourbrainoritwillcontrolyou