Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Anxiety Abounds With Back to School

Today was the first day back after winter break and several of our students who at times experience significant anxiety struggled today. My office and the clinic were very busy places with students who felt "ill" and wanted to be back in the safety of their own homes. For people, children and adults, without personal experiences with anxiety it can be hard to empathize with the level of distress going to school creates for many children. I like to teach children with anxiety issues to develop their own Anxiety Checklist. When they start feeling anxious they need to immediately start mentally going through their own list and doing each item until the anxiety decreases to a level they can manage. This is just like any checklist (homework written in agenda, all books and materials needed in backpack, backpack and coat, etcetera). I try to encourage the students to practice using their list when their anxiety is low so it becomes automatic. For example, a checklist for anxiety might be: 1) take 5 deep belly breaths while counting slowly; 2) notice things in your immediate environment; 3) visualize the sights and sounds of a favorite relaxing place; 4) do a repetitive motion that can be as simple as tapping fingers for 2 minutes; and 5) use progressive relaxation to squeeze and relax muscles in the body beginning with toes. I usually type up the checklist the student develops and give them 2 copies. If they want me to (give their permission) I will also email a copy to their parents. Students with anxiety need the right type of support so collaborating with parents can lead to much speedier results. Who knows if tomorrow will bring more students who struggle to focus on school because of anxiety or the return to routines will help them cope better. That is what I love about being an elementary counselor, each day is different.

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