#Anxiety #BackToSchool #DiegoCagara #SpotlightNews
It is normal for students to feel uncertain about the new school year. This applies for all from kindergarten through 12th grade, and even university. Switching gears into a different environment, where they face new classes, peers, teachers and school buildings, can be challenging for some.
Anxiety is defined by the American Psychological Association as “an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure,” often when pondering over the future or an uncertain outcome. It also can comprise of numerous disorders that are more severe, which necessitates medical attention.
Dr. Dolores Cimini — Director for Behavioral Health Promotion and Applied Research, Director of the Middle Earth Peer Assistance Program, and an adjunct clinical professor at the University at Albany — focused on college students and how “the transition to college is very significant for most students.”
She said that during their high school lives, it was structured with classes; parents and friends were more present; and students generally had daily emotional and financial support. But upon entering college, there is a higher expectation on independence and there’s less structure, as students may move away from home and can select a flexible schedule of classes.
“Students are expected to handle schedules, finances, social lives, work lives in some cases, health issues and on top of that, demanding classes,” Cimini said. “It can explain why anxiety is very common among college students. In fact, it’s the number one mental health concern in college. For a number of years, it used to be depression.”
She also cited higher pressure to succeed academically and land a paying job; balancing work and life effectively; increased competition to get accepted into a university; and even competition within college.
“It’s really a tough balancing act,” she summarized.
For university students, Dr. Cimini recommended that they practice time management well — create a schedule and plan to pace one’s studying, study a bit daily, and not procrastinate.
“There are many smartphone apps out there to help students with stress management or support relaxation and mindfulness,” she said. “There are even apps for meditation.”
Two highly-recommended resources are a university’s counseling center and academic advising office. Family, friends and professors could help point out other resources for help too.
Cimini also brought up how therapy dogs are brought onto campus before midterms and finals, “because people can have a connection with animals. It can help ease their day a little better.”
Kimberly Leva, the Department Coordinator for School Counseling at Colonie Central High School, spoke mainly about the high school student’s experience.
She pointed out that 9th graders are most likely to have anxiety about entering a new school and building, since they were the oldest in middle school as 8th graders, hence they would “have to start over as being the youngest in high school.”
“Anxiety is part of being a teenage high school student,” she said. “But when it manifests into something more extreme, that’s when you may have a student who either has stomach aches, headaches, or maybe tell their parents they don’t feel well. If there’s a repeat of that, it can be an indicator of anxiety. In severe anxiety bouts, students may cry or literally shake in the classroom.”
Leva added that anxious high school students typically confide in friends first before their families, while some “shut themselves off and don’t tell anyone.”
While this anxiety discussion may focus on just students at first glance, parents and adults should be involved too to help.
As “students pick up cues from their parents,” she suggested that parents can help prepare them for the new year by projecting a positive attitude about school, before school starts. Teachers, staff, other adults and counselors should continue that mindset by being positive, supportive and educational in letting students know where both at and beyond school they can get help.
According to her, 9th graders and newcomers have an orientation program the day before school starts. “They spend 10 minutes in each classroom, meeting teachers and it goes a long way in settling their nerves.”
The subject of orientation programs was echoed by Delmar’s Hamagrael Elementary School Principal Dave Ksanznak who said it would have a new student orientation on Thursday, Aug. 30. Students would meet with him “in the auditorium and talk programs, tour, lunch, gym, recess, class subjects and general day-to-day operations.”
In addition, incoming kindergarteners have a one-hour orientation where they see their classrooms, meet teachers and see their desks; parents came and learned about the kindergarten program the spring prior. He said, “Once students see that everyone else is in the same boat, they get through their initial jitters and into routines eventually.”
Heidi Andrade, Associate Professor in Educational Psychology and Methodology at the University at Albany, also agreed that touring a campus helps children tremendously, and parents should take anxiety as a concept seriously. “It’s a downward spiral if not addressed,” she added.
She brought up how students are rarely taught explicitly how to manage their learning and motivation, and self-regulate their emotions.
A “learning context” is also paramount, in how students think and study differently in relation to where they physically are. For example, people are more focused in a library as opposed to studying in front of a TV screen. “It sounds straightforward but many don’t know how to best stay motivated and develop strategies for learning,” she said.
Students may develop a negative habit where if they tend to fail academically, they assume teachers will not help them because they think they are unintelligent. Lack of sleep, having nightmares, hiding and saying, “I don’t want go to school!” are other signs of worsening anxiety.
“There’s things they may fear too like bullying, drug abuse, sexual abuse, peer pressure and good grief, school shootings,” she said.
As touched on before, Cimini, Leva, Ksanznak and Andrade all suggested taking advantage of orientation programs, being open with peers and family, staying informed of the seriousness of anxiety, and perhaps seeking professional help.
“This might sound ridiculous but breathe,” added Andrade. “When anxiety happens, they start breathing shallowly which physically tells their body they’re panicked.”
“Anxiety is a very important topic and we want kids to feel comfortable and confident to be successful,” Ksanznak offered a universal message. “We want to work with them and their families. If they’re happy and comfortable, they’re going to learn.”