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5 Ways to Cope with Back--to--School Anxiety

Updated: Feb 8


An Asian and a Black women walking together at school
Photo by Zen Chung on Pexels

***Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and does not provide medical, legal, or health advice and is not a substitute for mental health services


Back to school. These three words are enough to send most students into a bit of an emotional spiral as September approaches.


Anxiety. Worry. Fear. Stress. All of these emotions are common for students as they prepare to begin another year of school regardless of their age.


For those students who are about to start their first year of university, college, or some other type of post high school training program, their anxiety may be even more intense, especially if they are moving away from the family home and need to get used to a completely new environment and new people while living on their own.


If this is your situation right now, some of the questions that may cross your mind are:

  • What if I have trouble finding my classes on campus?

  • Will I make any new friends?

  • What if I have issues with my roommate (if you are in a dorm room or a student house)?

  • How do I take good care of myself (e.g. cooking, laundry, cleaning, etc.)?

  • What if I don’t get the grades I’m hoping for?

The goal of this article is to help you think through the potential challenges you’re worried about and figure out ways to prepare for and deal with them as you get ready to go back to school. Read on for some tips and strategies that can help ease your back to school jitters.


1. Make your to--do list


A week or two before school starts, make a to-do list with all the things you need to take care of. Some ideas might include:

  • Buying required school supplies and course materials (e.g. notebooks, pens/pencils, online or paper textbooks, etc.)

  • Reviewing your course schedule and making any changes, if needed

  • Looking up where your classes are and getting familiar with campus if you are a first year university or college student

  • Attending orientation day and first year student activities if you are starting a post-graduate program

  • Getting a crash course from your parents in building your independence skills (e.g. laundry, cooking, cleaning, etc.) if you are going to be living in a dorm room or student house. You may feel that you need a refresher on these skills — or perhaps you are just starting to learn how to be independent (there’s no shame in that!).

  • Buying any necessary kitchen, household, and cleaning supplies if you are moving out of the family home

  • Going through your wardrobe to see which clothes you feel most comfortable and confident in and reviewing your budget if you need to get a few more items

  • Exploring clubs and associations that focus on areas that interest you and that give you a chance to meet new people

What else can you think of?


This list is just a starting point – feel free to write down any other ideas that you feel could be helpful for you to reflect on and start to explore as you get ready to start another school year.


2. Get into a sleep routine


At the tail-end of summer, the last thing you might want to think about is starting to go to bed earlier. However, prioritizing sleep is an important strategy to help you feel your best as school begins in September.


It can take some time for your mind and body to get used to this new sleep schedule, so testing it out a few weeks before you really need to use it could be beneficial for this major transition.


Take some time to think about your ideal sleep time and start going to bed a half hour earlier over the period of the next week or two until you reach your preferred time. This will help you get slowly used to the change and make it easier for you to adapt to going to bed earlier.


If this helps, try to create an evening routine that relaxes you so that you can have a more restful sleep. An evening routine could include:

  • reducing your screen time (e.g. phones, tv, iPad)

  • having a warm shower or bath

  • doing your skin care routine

  • listening to relaxing music

  • meditating

  • connecting with loved ones

  • reading a book

  • creating a calming bedroom environment by using low lighting and clearing your space of clutter

What other ideas do you have?


Your evening routine can be anything that helps you feel relaxed, calm, and peaceful. Try to start your evening routine an hour or an hour and a half before bed to maximize your level of relaxation before sleep.


3. Improve your study habits


Are there aspects of your study habits that you would like to change?


For example, do you struggle with any of the following?:

  • motivating yourself to start studying

  • getting constantly distracted by your phone – texts, social media (e.g. Instagram, Facebook/Meta, TikTok, Snapchat, etc.)

  • watching Netflix or another tv subscription service rather than studying

  • socializing with your friends when you know you need to focus on schoolwork

  • getting up often for a glass of water or a snack and having difficulty getting your mind back into study mode

  • being interrupted by others in your household when you are trying to concentrate

What else is hard for you when it comes to studying?


One thing you could do to try to minimize distractions and boost your concentration is set your environment up to be study-friendly. Turn your phone to airplane mode and – better yet – put your phone away so that it can’t distract you. Turn off the tv so that it doesn’t tempt you to start watching another episode. Let the people that you live with know that you’re going to be studying for the next little while and will let them know when you're available to talk.


Open up your course materials to the subject that you want to focus on first. Use whatever tools and devices that help you retain and/or organize information – your laptop, iPad, notebook, highlighters, sticky notes, etc.


Make a plan for what you’d like studying to look like for the day. Maybe you’ll spend the morning on one subject and then shift to another subject in the afternoon or evening. Or perhaps one part of the day will be focused on studying and the latter half will be spent on writing up an assignment. Stick to your plan as best as you can.


The key idea here is to set yourself up for success by building consistent study habits that can serve you well year after year.


And don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t get the exact grades you are hoping for. Remind yourself that you are trying your best – and that’s good enough. Focus on the process - not just the outcome.


4. Don’t forget to take breaks


As important as it is to focus on your schoolwork, it’s equally important to take breaks. You may find that planning your breaks at certain times of day allows you to be intentional about how you spend your free time.


Connecting with loved ones, devoting time to a hobby or interest, or getting outside for a short walk may be more fulfilling than endlessly scrolling on social media before getting back to your coursework.


Whatever way you decide to spend your free time, make it count.


5. Reflect on what’s working – and what isn’t


Testing out new behaviours and habits helps you learn what works well for you – and what doesn’t. Give yourself permission to change something if it isn’t working out.


For example, maybe you tried meditating but realize you prefer reading a fiction book instead before you go to bed. Perhaps you started using sticky notes to flag certain sections but realize you prefer to save information in your iPad notes as you can access it more easily and efficiently.


Make the necessary changes and see what difference it makes for you in your everyday life.


Summary


Going back to school can bring up feelings of anxiety, worry, and stress for many students. It's important to know that you’re not alone. This is a common experience and it may be heightened even more if you are starting a new adventure by entering your first year at university or college, possibly living on campus, and facing the many adjustments that come with that major change.


With careful preparation/organization, practicing self-care, trying out studying tips and new healthy habits, and being intentional with your time and energy will assist you as you start your school year off well in terms of your mental and emotional well-being. All the best for your fall semester!


Wishing you well on your mental health journey.



Davina Tiwari MSW, RSW, CSFT

Registered Social Worker and Certified Solution Focused Therapist



If you are an adult in Ontario or Alberta seeking online therapy and would like to request a free 15 minute phone consultation, please Book An Appointment.




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