Beat Back to School Stress

Patient Expert

“Ba de ya - say do you remember

Ba de ya - dancing in September

Ba de ya - never was a cloudy day”

  • September by Earth, Wind & Fire

Listening to the song “September” by Earth, Wind & Fire can be a very uplifting experience (for me at least). Managing your life in the month of September, however, can be a very challenging experience.

For many students, this is due to back-to-school stress. Even as an adult who has been out of school for 15 years, I still feel a certain level of anxiety as the school year begins.

Kelly Wallace, in her article, Back to school: What kids are most anxious about is … notes that children may have concerns about the first day of school, new teachers, standardized testing, extracurricular activities, and more homework. All of this and more can contribute to a child’s stress level.

For college students, the Coastal Center for Anxiety Treatment says the list of issues that can cause back-to-school stress is much longer. These include living away from home, relationship issues, roommate drama, finding a job, and financial concerns.

We need some practical tools to quickly reduce stress at the beginning of the school year for children, teenagers, and college students. Here are some tips from the experts.

Calm yourself downJeff Yalden, a youth motivational speaker, encourages students to meditate. “Even if it’s for only five seconds.** Learn to breathe and center yourself**. Have a mantra such as on the inhale say to yourself, ‘Breathe in Peace.’ On the exhale, say to yourself, ‘Exhale Love.’ This will calm you, and it puts you in control.”

Control your thoughtsJeff also encourages students to** practice taking control of destructive thoughts**. He says it is important to “free yourself from thoughts of ‘What if?’ or, ‘What about?’ and realize that all expectations do is bring disappointment.”

Additionally, he suggests that students create an objective for themselves each day, such as “owning this day and realizing that your attitude and the choices you make will make all the difference. Own the day by walking those halls with pride, love, and joy.”

Manage bad days

Carmela Cox, a teacher, and Certified Angel Card Reader, suggests that, “If a student feels as if today didn't go well, they should remember that this day will pass, and that tomorrow is another day. They can say to themselves ‘There is no need for me to worry. I did the best that I could today and tomorrow will be even better!’”

Practice self care“Anytime a student goes through a significant change, like the start of a new semester,** I encourage them to be selfish for the first few weeks**,” says Yuri Cataldo, a professor at Emerson College. “Eating well, getting enough sleep, exercising, and getting on a consistent schedule will help them transition into a new environment and handle the new levels of stress they will face. Carving out time for yourself and keeping yourself healthy will go a long way when the pressure is on and you're feeling stressed.”

Practice saying, “NO”

“Know that it’s okay to say 'no.' At the best of times, we all get scared of giving in to peer pressure, an invite out, a party, skipping class, or doing all of the work for your group when we really should be doing our school work or other tasks. Don’t feel guilty saying 'no',” says Brett Francis, a mental health advocate and speaker.

Develop new skills for college

Transitioning into the new school year can be difficult for children and teenagers. The college experience, however, presents many more challenges. Matt Shapiro, Public Engagement Coordinator at NAMI New York State, suggests the following:

  1. Set realistic expectations, know your limits and go at your pace. While at college, some students can handle a 15-18 credit course load for a semester, some cannot. Especially if you are just starting college, do not try to overdo it. Taking 12 credits is usually a good starting point. See if you can handle that and adjust from there. It’s also fine to drop a class if you are overloaded. It’s important to remember that all people go at their own pace and you can’t use other people as your measuring stick. If things take you longer, just go at the pace you are comfortable with.
  2. Use checklists. For many students going away to college offers their opportunity to self-manage their time. But this can be stressful and overwhelming. My advice for dealing with this is to use checklists. This can help students remember to do things such as laundry and other tasks that may be new to them.
  3. Find out where to get support if you need it. We all need support, and it’s important to know where you can find it. Friends can offer support, but it’s also important to know what mental resources are available. Search out groups such as NAMI on CampusActive Minds, or other student support groups. Also, know what type of counseling and academic support services are available and don’t be afraid or embarrassed to seek their help. That’s what they are there for.

For more resources, on managing stress, be sure to visit our Facebook page.

The new school year doesn’t have to be stressful for you. If it is stressing you out right now, I encourage you review the tips above and listen to the song, “September”, by Earth, Wind and Fire.

Mike Veny is one of America’s leading mental health awareness speakers, HealthCentral’s newest social ambassador, and a high energy corporate drumming event facilitator. He delivers educational, engaging, and entertaining presentations to meetings and conferences throughout the world. Learn more and connect with Mike at