Warning signs to pay attention to (in yourself or a student you know) that they might be struggling as they return to school

It’s important as students return to school in Fall 2021, to be aware of the physical symptoms of stress or anxiety. Sometimes they may present as rapid breathing, sweaty palms, stomach pangs, feeling like there’s a knot in the throat, feeling shaky on the inside, not being able to focus, or feeling hot. One student reported, “feeling hot inside out” when he walked into a large biology lab.  Some students may become loud while others may become quiet when feeling stressed out.

Being aware of these symptoms will assist the student in knowing when to use coping skills such as mindful controlled breathing. Controlled breathing can actually calm a person on a cellular level. It can be done simply by inhaling for a count of 1-2-3 and exhaling for a count of 1-2-3-4.  Visual cues may also help disrupt anxious thinking. Before the school year begins, look for images that are calming such as a beach or mountain scene, a photo of a pet, a favorite meme or cartoon character and attach to a binder or notebook. It’s also a good idea to have the images available by cell phone; however, they may not be easily accessible due to limited cell phone use in class. For some students, doodling the infinity symbol or figure 8 is a simple repetitive way to refocus and self-regulate.

The key to being able to manage stress or anxiety in class is to identify which strategies or coping skills work and practice these strategies when not feeling stressed.  Strategies that are planned and practiced coping skills will be easier to recall when feeling anxious in class.

This blog written by CHA Senior Clinician Max McIntosh.