August is a month of both endings and beginnings as the summer closes and the new school kicks off. While for some this may be a time of excitement and enthusiasm, for others, this transition is filled with anxiety, worry, and dread. Whether you are a college student in your first semester or a parent shepherding your children to grade school, going back to school can be difficult.
As a student, it is helpful to recognize the difficulties of this transition back to school. Particularly when going to college, there are many new things being asked of you and it is common for people to suffer from depression or anxiety. Some find it challenging to meet new people or live with a new roommate while others dread taking tests or giving presentations. Though these may seem like ‘small things,’ it is precisely the small things that can become overwhelming.
It is important to know that suffering from anxiety or depression may not appear in the ways you image. Feeling anxious or depressed also does not look the same for everyone and can include physical, emotional, and spiritual symptoms. Physical symptoms may include changes in your appetite, your ability to fall and stay asleep, or noticing chest pains and a rapid heartbeat. Symptoms can also appear emotionally and include feeling irritable, unmotivated, or overwhelmed. Even spiritual symptoms may indicate depression or anxiety. Such signs can include believing you deserve God’s punishment, feeling that you must go to confession excessively, or being consumed by the worry of sinning.
As a parent, there are many ways to both support and guide your child through this back to school transition. If they are younger, it is helpful to create a before school and after school routine. For example, setting out their clothes the night before, praying with them before leaving for school, or teaching about spiritual companions such as guardian angels or a favorite saint. If your child is older, you can support them by suggesting ways to organize their time, educating them on mental health service locations, and helping them feel settled in new environments. Supporting older children may also, paradoxically, involve stepping away from direct, hands-on help and allowing space for them to try new things, ask new questions, and grow further into adulthood.
While beginning the school year poses numerous challenges, there are also many things that can be helpful. It is best to keep new practices simple and consistent. If you are already feeling overwhelmed, unmotivated, or nervous, it is best to not change too many things all at once. Making one small adjustment at a time can make a big difference! Helpful changes involve going to bed and waking up at the same time, starting your day with an hour of silent prayer, or having designated spaces for various activities (sleep, work, prayer, fun). In addition to these self-initiated changes, there are also many people to support and help you. Friends, family, counselors or mental health providers, and spiritual directors are just a few!
Know that we are thinking of you and holding you in prayer as you embark on these transitions, challenges, and new experiences.