Handling stress or anxiety for children going back to school
As children go back to school, you may notice some areas of anxiety and stress.
How can you handle the build-up of stress or anxiety as they return?
By practicing mindfulness. Specifically, grounding yourself in the present moment to calm your racing mind. When you truly focus on the here and now you’re not stuck fretting about the future, playing out stories in your head about what may happen at school. You’re also not stuck in the past playing out stories from last term such as losing a friendship group, failing an exam, or embarrassing yourself in English. When you’re in the present moment you focus on what is going on right now. This second as you read this article. And how can you focus on the present moment? Here are a few pointers to help…
Don’t ignore your body’s stress signals. Your body is your emotional gauge, it gives you early warning signals that stress is manifesting. It could be a tightness in your chest, tense shoulders, a clenched jaw, a churning tummy, a racing mind, increased sweating and so much more. If you experience any of this it is time to stop what you’re doing and prioritise some self-care.
Focus on your breathing. No matter what life throws at you, you can always tune into your breathing to anchor you in the present moment. I’m referring to conscious breathing – noticing how your body feels as you breathe in and breathe out. You may notice it more in the chest area as your ribcage expands and contracts on each in-breath and out-breath. Or in your tummy, as it rises on each in-breath and falls on each out-breath. Or in your nostrils. Wherever you feel it most naturally, tune into it whenever you feel stress manifesting in the body. Tuning into your breathing helps to turn down the stress reaction and instead, ignites the parasympathetic nervous system or ‘rest and digest’ system that signals to the body ‘everything is ok’. The more you practice this the easier it becomes. Dropping into the body reduces the busyness of the mind. Over time you may even notice your shoulders drop or the tightness in your chest loosening.
"Nicola MacDonald has created a life manual to help teens flourish at a time when life can feel hard. Using practical exercises in mindfulness, Nicola brings an understanding of powerful self-awareness which leads to self-acceptance. It’s the book I wish I had as a teen." - Becky Walsh, personal power specialist, spiritual teacher, author, speaker, broadcaster. Do you often feel stressed or anxious? Do you have regular outbursts at your family? Do you frequently play out worst-case scenarios in your head? Or perhaps you’re the master of the brave face, all bright and shiny on the outside but crumbling on the inside. Perhaps your home life has turned upside down or you’re being bullied. Perhaps you feel like an outsider or you’re overwhelmed with school pressure. Perhaps you find it hard to manage your anger or you struggle with low self-esteem.
• Validate yourself using mindfulness techniques. The more you validate yourself, the less you may seek validation from others. As you become more aware of what your mind is up to you will notice more quickly when your inner critic is running the show. You can catch that negative thinking before it plays out a film in your head that you’re unworthy/unlovable/not good enough. Techniques such as conscious breathing, grounding yourself in the body, and self-compassion meditations will all help you to pause and become the observer of your mind. You can notice when it is racing off into self-attack mode and instead, you can choose to switch on self-compassion mode. Use positive self-talk to remind yourself that you are more than enough just as you are.
Heart racing, chest squeezing, tummy flipping, armpits sweating….You’re lost in a film that is playing out in your head, a nightmare of worst-case scenarios. No-one will talk to you. Everybody now hates you. The guy or girl you like is now into your best friend. Your teachers think you’re stupid. Your friends keep practicing TikToks that you missed over the summer. You say something silly in biology and everyone laughs at you. You have this sense of impending doom that the virus will return after a month and you will be stuck at home again FOR ETERNITY.
•Learn to release your emotions healthily. If you feel like you’re already simmering i.e. you’re already on edge, likely to explode at the slightest thing with a knee-jerk reaction you probably have some built-up emotions that need to be released. Try a mindful meditation to help you unearth any hidden emotions that are buried beneath the surface. When you mindfully meditate you tune into your body allowing any tension to be released one tear at a time. A mindful self-compassion meditation is particularly powerful when you have some heavy emotions that need lifting.
• Use the Mountain meditation to prepare for the day ahead. It can keep you grounded and give you the confidence to face any challenge coming your way – an exam, the chat your teacher has scheduled, the social stuff you have to face at school. Give yourself ten minutes in the morning to root yourself to the ground. Mountains endure unpredictable hits of weather regularly. As with the mountain you can remain unshakable, solid and unmoved by the changing weather patterns around you. This also applies to the occasional icy voices that threaten to take down your mountain.