> Current Issues > Q&A for Teens

Back to School Nerves

August 17, 2014 | by Lauren Roth

My stomach hurts every time I think about going back to school.

Dear Lauren,

I know I have to face the fact that the summer is ending and school will be starting soon. I keep seeing commercials for “back to school” on TV, and every time we go to any store, the back-to-school items are on display as soon as we walk in. The problem is my stomach hurts every time I think about going back. I’m just so nervous. I really hope you have some advice for me.

Lauren Roth

Lauren Roth's Answer

Do you know that my stomach still clenches every time I feel a hint of September crispness in the air? Or see leaves turning red on trees. Or smell autumn smells. Or see cranberries and pumpkins. Or see plaid skirts – especially maroon or grey-colored ones! To me, those were signs, for years, that the summer was ending and school was about to begin. So I’m with you!

You are for certain giving yourself extra misery, woe, and sadness by worrying about it now.

The thing is, though, that being nervous about something before it even happens is just giving yourself more misery than the actual event brings. Whether school turns out to be great and wonderful or horrible and terrible, you are for certain giving yourself extra misery, woe, and sadness by worrying about it now.

Also, you might get to school and have a really hard time. You might find the classes to be difficult, you might not find the friends you want…but you might find the classes to be exciting, exhilarating, and interesting! And you might find really nice friends! And then you worried and made yourself miserable for nothing. That would be a waste of the wonderful summer days you have left! It reminds me of my daughter, who just realized that six months from now she’s going to need a shot at the pediatrician. Do you know that she was sad for an entire day thinking about that? She kept remembering about the six-months-from-hence shot and crying about it! The last time she fretted about a shot (for an entire three days before The Event), when the doctor finally gave her the dreaded injection, she looked up in surprise, blinked a couple of times, and said, “That’s it?!” She had made herself miserable for nothing.

And even if you do dislike school once you get there, your worrying about it now will do nothing to improve your school experience then.

Instead of dreading school and worrying about it and creating all kinds of negative fantasies in your mind about how horrible it might be, it makes just as much sense to create positive fantasies in your mind about how great school might be. You can imagine yourself really enjoying socializing with the kids in your classes, you can imagine yourself getting nice grades, you can imagine yourself enjoying the routine of learning all day and relaxing with your family and friends at night before you go learn some more in the form of homework (Don’t laugh! It might be fun to learn new things in a disciplined fashion!). You also might enjoy the panoply of ideas presented to you by your teachers – and you might enjoy learning what words like “panoply” mean!

Can you do anything to improve your odds of enjoying school?

Another question to consider is: can you do anything to improve your odds of enjoying school? Do you want to call friends you’ll be in school with and get together with them now, to improve your chances of connecting better with them socially once school starts? Do you want to get your school supplies and your school clothes now so that you’re all prepared and don’t have to rush to get what you need at the last minute? Do you want to finish your summer homework now so that you don’t have to worry about getting it done?

Can you sign up for activities or plan to do activities during the school year which will help you enjoy the school months? Like taking ice skating lessons on Sundays or joining the school band or trying out for the school play or scheduling pizza nights or movie nights or walking nights or volleyball nights with friends for the school months?

If there’s nothing practical to do in order to be fully prepared for the coming school year, then I advise you to force yourself to unwind and enjoy the summer while it’s still here. If you start to think about school, take a deep breath, firmly tell your brain, “NO,” and instead focus on the beautiful azure sky, the summer breeze, the sounds of swimming, or anything else that is here and now and summery.

I also will tell you that any situation can be what you make of it, to a great extent. I’ve known people who have gone through through horrific experiences, but whose attitude kept them sane and strong. I’ve seen people crumble when the going gets tough, and I’ve seen people rise to challenges and grow and blossom. If you go to school with a positive, “this is going to be good” attitude, you will find ways to make the school months good. If you go to school with a doom-and-gloom attitude, it might be harder for you to enjoy your classes, learn from your teachers, and make friends. Look for the good and you will almost always find it – even in the weirdest, wildest places you would never expect to find good.

Even the process of learning how not to be nervous before school starts is a great learning experience. See? School teaches us lots of things!


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