With school back in full swing, students may be experiencing some sort of anxiety or feelings of panic. Meeting new people, starting new classes and being busier than in the summer can induce an anxious response. It may present differently across age groups, but there are many options and ways to manage it.
Lidan Gu, PhD, is a pediatric psychologist with the University of Minnesota Physicians (M Physicians), and she says people experience anxiety differently, and it is most important to address the severity and its impacts to daily life.
What is anxiety?
“Anxiety is a mechanism, like our body system, that we use to mentally and physically test something that can be stressful or worrisome, or to anticipate something that may not go very well or where stressors come up,” says Dr. Gu. “It is an adaptive functioning that we all have.”
Every person experiences anxiety at some point, ranging from mild to severe. For some, anxiety can be motivating and push them to do well or get something done. For others, anxiety can be overwhelming and may hold someone back from performing at their best.
What does anxiety look like?
Dr. Gu says that anxiety presents differently in people, resulting in both mental and physical symptoms, like frequently dwelling on an upcoming event like starting the school year in order to prepare for it.
In students and others, higher levels of anxiety can produce additional emotional or mental symptoms like feeling uneasy throughout the day or feeling fidgety and unable to sit still for periods of time.
Physical symptoms of anxiety may include:
- Difficulty concentrating.
- Headache or stomach aches
- Struggling to sleep
“You might also feel more irritable or uneasy about something, because you worry about it so much. It could show up mentally, physically, or impact your day to day life,” Dr. Gu explains, adding, “It may also impact social interaction as it might be hard to interact with new people or to just be yourself.”
If you feel anxiety is impacting your everyday life, healthcare providers like Dr. Gu at M Physicians can help you manage or treat it.
For younger children, school can introduce anxiety for additional reasons as it may be their first extended time away from home or their parents.
Youngsters may also feel pressure from their peers to fit in, which can also lead to anxious feelings. Dr. Gu suggests that much of anxiety seen in children and teenagers comes from social interactions and perceptions of others.
She says that for highschoolers, the pressure of having a larger workload and a new school to navigate can also be difficult as there are more demands for these students.
“Anxiety symptoms are so common that they can be overlaid with so many other neural developmental concerns and can also be exacerbated by other mental health concerns,” She says, and hose with depression and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are much more likely to experience anxiety symptoms as well.
What can parents and students do about it?
There are many coping mechanisms and strategies to help address anxiety, but Dr. Gu urges people to understand that anxiety is not always a problem.
Dr. Gu says that some people may feel more anxious as they become worried about the symptoms they are experiencing. She says that is when it is important to truly understand what anxiety is, so we don’t feel alarmed or scared of the physical impacts.
“Anxiety is not a problem, it is trying to help you and your body be prepared for any stressful situation,” she says.
When it gets to the point where it impacts someone’s daily function, it may be time to consider extra support to manage it.
For younger children, reassurance is key in addition to slowing down the demands of their day-to-day life. Giving them more downtime and the opportunity to get good sleep can be helpful. As they grow older, it is also important to talk about these feelings with others to help validate concerns and give the reassurance they need.
When it comes to treatment, Dr. Gu offers a bit of insight on what that might look like. It starts with an assessment to get a good measure of the level of anxiety someone is experiencing, considering outside factors to help determine the source.
Then, Dr. Gu says she works with her patients to develop management and problem solving strategies and to talk through some of these stressors. The treatment plan may also include medication as well as frequent meetings with a provider.
Overall, it is important to remember that everyone experiences anxiety and that it isn’t always a problem. If you or a family member feel anxiety is impacting your day to day life, connect with your healthcare provider or reach out to make an appointment with an M Physicians clinician.