Pass­ing the stress test

Many stu­dents suf­fer ‘in­tense’ anx­i­ety over the thought of go­ing back to school


In the­ory, Au­gust is a bliss­ful re­prieve from the stress of the home­work, aca­demic pres­sure and so­cial scru­tiny. But that’s not the re­al­ity.

Au­gust is one long Sun­day, with kids dread­ing what’s to come. Dr. Bar­bara Green­berg sees the back-to-school blues set­ting in once July is over, with many kids spend­ing this past month anx­ious. “Anx­i­ety lev­els have sky­rock­eted,” she said.

What was once her slow­est month is now her busi­est. “Au­gust was tra­di­tion­ally down­time for kids and teens — not any­more. I’m see­ing more and more kids, and many are feel­ing they’re be­hind be­fore they even start.”

Green­berg, a teen clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist at dr­bar­bara­green­, sees aca­demic pres­sures start­ing ear­lier, sports be­ing more com­pet­i­tive and less fun, and so­cial com­par­isons re­lent­less and toxic. “Now mid­dle school­ers are wor­ried about get­ting into cer­tain uni­ver­si­ties. Kids have in­tense anx­i­ety about fit­ting in, but it’s the en­gage­ment in so­cial com­par­isons that cre­ates ter­ri­ble anx­i­ety in kids.”

While the summer months can pro­vide a breather from ruth­less so­cial me­dia com­par­isons, once school starts it’s all about try­ing to fit in and “there’s no way to stay off the so­cial me­dia plat­forms. In­sta­gram can be very de­press­ing — it’s all about im­pres­sion man­age­ment and fab­ri­cated mo­ments of seem­ingly happy, fun-filled lives.”

It’s ugly and fu­els poor men­tal health, tak­ing them to a place of anx­i­ety, de­pres­sion, panic at­tacks, body hate and more, says Green­berg, the teen doc­tor for Psy­chol­ogy To­day.

Ac­tu­ally In­sta­gram is the most detri­men­tal so­cial net­work­ing app for young peo­ple’s men­tal health, fol­lowed closely by Snapchat, re­ports #Sta­tu­sofMind, a new sur­vey by the Royal So­ci­ety for Public Health in the U.K.

Sum­mers are fur­ther marred by wor­ries about be­ing bul­lied, espe­cially when kids are fac­ing a new school or en­ter­ing high school. “They worry about be­ing re­jected and if they’ll have a friend­ship group to be­long to.”

Many par­ents also ex­pe­ri­ence anx­i­ety and dread as they an­tic­i­pate the new school year and the re­turn to the grind and an­tic­i­pa­tion of ar­gu­ments, ten­sion, pres­sure and dead­lines, says Ari Fox, a psy­chother­a­pist spe­cial­iz­ing in school-re­lated is­sues at cope­with­school­

“Par­ents need to be care­ful not to get caught up in joint de­pres­sion and anx­i­ety with their kids,” warns Green­berg.

Fox adds that stu­dents to­day face in­tense aca­demic pres­sures in school high­lighted by fear of failure, in­creased fo­cus on test­ing and a grow­ing sense that one must know in what field he or she will work.

Many schools have re­duced phys­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion, adds Fox.

“Un­for­tu­nately, this de­prives stu­dents of an im­por­tant stressre­duc­ing tool and can neg­a­tively af­fect both phys­i­cal and men­tal well­ness.”


Back to school can be a stress­ful time for both par­ents and chil­dren, as mul­ti­ple pres­sures take their toll on kids.

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