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Back to school – with a difference

After a long summer holiday – or even after a shorter break – it’s not uncommon to feel nervous about going back to school. There may be fears that friendships will have moved on, uncertainty about what new teachers and classroom dynamics will be like and even concerns over workload, lesson difficulty and group try-outs.

Usually, the anxious feelings settle down within a week or two and routine is quickly re-established. Things are a little different at the moment, however. For one thing, this time away from school has been spent keeping up with lessons from home, rather than going away or hanging out with friends. Indeed, even spending time with friends – something that you would ordinarily do, both in term time and holidays – has been off limits.

Many students are feeling a range of emotions at the moment. Thanks to coronavirus (Covid-19), life has changed rapidly. Added to this is an air of uncertainty about when, how and whether things will return to being anything like they used to be. There are even question marks over when school will return – it might be next week, August or even September – or what the school day and classroom will look like when it does.

On top of this, there might be concerns about becoming ill and leaving the safety and security of home, which could make the prospect of time ‘elsewhere’ seem frightening. It’s important to realise that all of this is completely valid.

‘Recognising that such feelings are not only acceptable, but also that they are being experienced by many others around you, may be one of the first steps towards calming those feelings of anxiety,’ says psychotherapist Nicholas Rose.

‘The amount of change, and the speed of change, that everyone has experienced means anxiety is a natural reaction – and knowing it’s OK to be anxious means knowing it’s also OK to talk about that with friends and family. In fact, talking about it could help you as well as those around you.’

It’s also possible your guardians might be anxious about you returning to school, and it’s easy to pick up on these doubts and feed them into your own thinking. But it’s important to see that you don’t have to find the answers or to fix the problem.

‘Adults, like anyone, struggle at times but it’s not your responsibility,’ explains Nicholas. ‘What’s more important is you feel you have someone you can speak to about it – whether a friend, counsellor or helpline such as Childline.’ 

‘One way to deal with anxiety is by asking yourself: “What do I want to do about that?” ’ says Nicholas. For example, you could ask yourself:

  • ‘What has been helpful in the past when I’ve been stuck?’
  • ‘Who has been helpful in the past when I’ve felt this way?’
  • ‘Who in my family or friendship group handles these kinds of situations well, and what do they do that I could learn from?’

As an example, if you’re worried you might have fallen behind in your schoolwork you could use this time to identify the gaps in your learning. This exercise might also be useful if you’re feeling off-kilter because of the lack of a clearly defined routine. As Nicholas says: ‘Although we can’t change the current situation, and we can’t influence the school return date, we can ensure that we feel [more] ready for whatever happens, when it happens.’

There’s another aspect, too. You’re not alone. ‘It’s worth remembering that many people are likely to be in the same boat,’ says Nicholas, ‘most people will have faced challenges over the previous months and feel similar kinds of discomfort and anxiety.’

Of course, things are likely to be different, even when they return to ‘normal’ – and, reminds Nicholas, humans are, by nature, creatures of habit, so there are bound to be times when we forget to carry out the new rules – around social distancing, for example.

‘If we’re told that we can’t do things that we’re used to doing and that we want to do, it’s important to allow ourselves to make mistakes,’ he says. ‘Don’t beat yourself up about it – we can only try our best to remember the new norms.’

If you’re feeling nervous about returning to school, are worried you’ve fallen behind with your studies or are concerned about your own or others’ health, it’s important to share your feelings with someone you trust – a guardian, close friend, older sibling or an auntie or uncle. There’s also lots of information at youngminds.org.uk and childline.org.uk. You can also phone Childline on 0800 1111.

Words: Sarah Rodrigues

Illustration: Kataryna Lanskaya via Shutterstock

Teen Breathe is the original mindfulness magazine for teens, for a happier, healthier, more fulfilled life.

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