By Kristina Schwalm-Bacquet, BSW, MSW, RSW
Going back to school can be exciting and petrifying. Take a look at these reminders to ensure an easier emotional transition.
1. Even wanted major life changes can provoke anxiety and depressive symptoms.
Take care of your mental health and watch for any lasting feelings of gloominess, irritability, emotional distress or difficulty coping and seek support. (see number 9).
2. Being “perfect” won’t work and will just stress you out.
Going back to school can amp up beliefs that we need to be perfect. Perfectionistic thoughts make us set unrealistic expectations and keep our self-worth dependent on the outcome. Trying to be perfect will likely just make you feel bad about yourself. Even if you do somehow achieve “perfection”, feeling that you are good enough can then start to become dependent on the unsustainable: maintaining perfection. Try to focus on your strengths and set a goal to enjoy your continual growth.
3. Self-Criticism does not motivate.
While the pain of criticizing ourselves can sometimes temporarily push us to achieve, long-term it makes us feel flat and unworthy. At best, it will likely make you less productive by provoking withdrawal and procrastination. At worst it helps depressive and anxiety symptoms take shape.
4. Fitting in is relative.
Attempting to fit in by altering your interests and personal traits can be eternally unfulfilling. Even if you do succeed, it probably won’t feel like the real you is being accepted. Remembering you are good enough and expressing who you are is more fulfilling in the long-run and can help you find the right people to connect with.
5. Bullies will be bullies.
Yes, bullies arrive at every age and might just be harder to spot when they appear outside of the schoolyard. Anyone who treats you in a way that makes you feel less than is probably not a healthy friend.
- You don’t need to keep contact with a bully. There are literally billions of other people on this earth and some of them will make you feel good about yourself. In more extreme situations, if breaking contact doesn’t work, seek support for yourself and don’t hesitate to report abusive acts to police.
- You are not what they might suggest you are. Try your best to remember what makes you, you. And all the strengths that come with it.
6. Most other people are feeling what you are feeling.
As you look around at the smiling faces in the halls, your classes or your dorm, it might be hard to believe that others are struggling with this transition as well. Remember, we are all human and we all often feel fearful and even low in times of change.
7. Notice your successes.
When aiming for success we can start to narrow in on shortcomings, big and small. We tend to disregard progress and achievement – somehow they don’t count or feel unimportant. We gather data that says we’re not enough, and miss the data that proves that we are! (This just supports depression and anxiety symptoms). Try hard to focus in on your strengths and honour your worth and value.
8. Maintain your healthy lifestyle.
Keeping healthy routines of sleep, healthy eating, exercise, relaxation time and limited alcohol use are imperative to your mental health. (No matter the social pressures or scary-feeling essays and exams.)
9. Seek support early.
Remember, all of these pointers are easier said than done. If you find you are having trouble in one or more of these areas, seek support from trustworthy friends, family members, a counsellor or a mental health therapist.
10. Be kind to yourself.
Your job is to take care of you, in all the many ways that you can.
This list is a simplified version of complex concepts. To discuss these concepts in detail and explore how they fit for you, seek out support from a qualified mental health therapist. If you have questions or you’d like to make a comment, head over to twitter and find me @KristinaSchwalm, or to my website, CBTinTrinityBellwoods.com.
I maintain a regular mental health blog on the darouwellness.com site, so check back in for more support for anxiety, depression, insomnia, emotional difficulties, trauma and general coping and mental wellness.
For more detailed information about back-to-school and mental health check out CAMH’s list of videos and posts for specific mental health concerns: http://www.camh.ca/en/hospital/about_camh/newsroom/CAMH_in_the_headlines/stories/Pages/BackToSchool-2015-Student-mental-health.aspx
Kristina Schwalm-Bacquet is a Mental Health Therapist, Supervisor and Instructor.