Is it anxiety or just back-to-school jitters?

By Cheryl Somers, MA, LPC

The summer flew by and now suddenly it’s August!  Which means it’s time for your teen to head back to school.  Going back to school can bring all kinds of reactions, from excitement about seeing friends, to dread about waking up early, to denial that it’s happening at all.

Most teens experience some level of back-to-school nervousness and worry.  Will I like my classes and teachers this year?  Will I have any classes with my friends?  More importantly, will I share a lunch period with any of my friends?  Will I make the team I want, get the part in the musical I want, get the ACT score I want? And on and on.

These are all perfectly normal reactions about going back to school. For some teens, though, anxiety can make the back-to-school process even more difficult.  But how can you tell if your teen is experiencing normal back-to-school jitters versus something more serious? Here are a few signs to help you spot the difference:

Typical jitters:  Worry about succeeding at school and making friends.

Possible anxiety: A level of worry that is out of proportion with the situation.  A persistent assumption that they will never succeed at school or have good friends.

Typical jitters: Experiencing nervous thoughts about going to school that come and go.  These thoughts can be overcome with distraction, or imagining positive outcomes or talking to a friend or parent.

Possible anxiety: Persistent worrying that does not go away with simple distractions, relaxation or talking to friends.

Typical jitters: Worrying about school or friends but also having moments of feeling confident that everything will be okay.

Possible anxiety: Taking worries to their worst possible outcome.  Imagining the most embarrassing, devastating result of every academic or friendship scenario. (For example: “If I fail a test, I’ll fail the class, I’ll never go to college and I’ll fail at life.”)

Anxiety can also come with physical symptoms, including:

  • fatigue
  • irritability
  • trouble sleeping
  • nausea
  • headaches

All of those symptoms, however, are things we also see in typical, healthy teens.  So how can you spot the difference?  If your teen is experiencing chronic anxiety/worrying along with physical symptoms for more than a week or two, and if these problems are interfering with his/her everyday functioning – he/she won’t get out of bed, refuses to go to school, avoids doing homework, makes excuses for avoiding social situations – those are signs that it might be more serious than typical back to school nerves.

If you are concerned your teen might be experiencing anxiety, please reach out to see if we can help.  Going back to school can be incredibly stressful for teens with anxiety and we want to help your teen have the best possible start to the new school year. Get started by calling us at 720-441-3714.

Want to learn more about stress and anxiety? Check out our newest online course PARENTING A TEEN WITH ANXIETY.

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