I am by nature an anxious person. Bad news sets me off and I am always imagining worst case scenarios. I can overthink any situation and make catastrophes seem reasonable.
However, after years of suffering from anxiety, I have found a way to manage it. I am an expert at self talk. I know what kind of person is helpful to an anxious person and I know which people are not at all helpful.
Since next week is the first week of school where I live, many people will be anxious – students, their parents, their teachers, and all the people who support students and our school system. The most important thing that people not involved in this process can do is to help others feel less anxious. If you don’t know how to do this, let me tell you one thing you should never say:
The statement “Just relax!” is pointless. If you have ever been anxious, you can probably already feel your face reddening and your blood pressure rising. The phrase is grating, like fingernails on a chalkboard…for anyone who remembers this sound, feeling slightly nauseous as you recall it. Anybody who is anxious knows they should relax, and they would if they could, but they cannot. For people like us, reminding us to relax is reminding us of our failure.
What you can do, if someone you know is very worried about school starting, is gently draw their attention to three questions. These are the questions I am asking myself in relation to each of the catastrophes I have imagined for next week.
The first question I ask myself is: How likely is it that this will happen? Often worst case scenarios are exactly that and they are not likely to occur. Whenever I find myself worrying about the worst outcomes, I remind myself over and over (and over) that these are very unlikely.
Sometimes we worry about situations that are possible, but beyond our control. An example of this would be terrible traffic next Tuesday, the first day of school, meaning that you would leave home with lots of time, but still be late. In these situations, remember that some things are beyond your control. No one can expect more of you than that you’ve done everything possible to arrive on time. Knowing you’ve done your best may not help you the first time, or the second time the uncontrollable happens, but eventually, with practice, it will help.
Finally, we can worry so much about a situation that we blow it out of proportion. Let me give you an example. It is possible for a parent to worry so much about their child that they will not let them go anywhere on their own. They may not even let them do things with friends unless they are hovering close by. This is reasonable when a child is five, but it is an overreaction when they are twelve. When it comes to worrying about those we care for, remember that they love us also and realize when we are worried.
Remember this as your children head off to school next week. Your children know you are worried and they will do everything they can to stay safe. Also, there is an army of teachers and bus drivers and custodians and so many others as determined as you are to keep them safe.