The Back to School Blues

The Back to School Blues

For many people, August and September mean the beginning of the school year. Whether you or a loved one is the student, the fall can bring on the “back to school blues” as you adjust. It’s important to attend to your needs and take proactive steps to cope with school adjustments.

Life transitions tend to sap resources

Keep in mind that any major life transition frequently activates the bodily systems that underlie stress. Stress during life transitions isn’t necessarily bad; our bodily systems are amping up for a challenge appropriately! It is only when stress is chronic or results in experiences like panic attacks that it raises a red flag. Nonetheless, stress is draining. Do you end the day feeling like you’ve run a marathon? Exhaustion may be a sign that your body and mind have been on ‘high alert’ all day.

How else besides stress can the start of school trigger the “school blues?” The answer is that school can aggravate areas we already struggle with.

School transitions can trigger ‘vulnerable’ areas

Think about what the start of school often involves for students and loved ones:

  • New people (academically and socially)
  • Adjustments to existing relationships – emotional, time, and otherwise
  • New schedules
  • New sources of evaluation (e.g., exams)
  • Heightened work and planning
  • Decreased free time
  • Unpredictable disruptions (e.g., COVID)

Any element by itself could result in symptoms of depression, anxiety, or sleep disruption for some. Combined? The risks multiply. Importantly, if you possess an area of your self that is already vulnerable, transition stress within that area can leave you uncertain and doubting yourself. For instance, what if you are someone who often worries that others are judging your appearance negatively? Coming across a variety of new classmates and instructors in dazzling new outfits may present plenty of opportunities to criticize yourself. Unfortunately, stress may also drain some of the very coping resources you would typically use to combat these insecurities.

While I’ve painted a rather dire picture of risks for school blues, let’s turn to the glass half-full side.

Use your strengths to battle the school blues

First, many back to school elements don’t need to be negative. Look at the list above again, but with an eye toward reframing them. You may find that some can be viewed as novel opportunities or challenges that you enjoy seeking out.

Second, this isn’t the time to forget your tried and true self-care methods. What has worked for you in the past? The momentary newness may cause you to forget about or hesitate to use effective coping strategies.

Third, just like you may have vulnerable areas of yourself, chances are that you have relevant self-areas you perceive as strengths. Are you excellent at organizing new schedules? Do you get energized about meeting other students, or about learning a new topic? Think of these self areas as buffers you can lean upon to maintain your confidence and mood. Research suggests for people with existing vulnerabilities, developing a longer list of areas you value about yourself may be beneficial. By reflecting upon your genuine strengths and vulnerabilities, you may protect yourself from the mental downsides.

If you would like help with this reflection or have other questions about the back to school blues, please feel free contact me for a free consultation. We can discuss whether counseling would be a good fit at this time.

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