Back to school anxiety

Buffalo, N.Y. (WBEN) Anxiety; a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome. Back to school in a pandemic is considered an anxiety trigger.

"30% of the population will experience an anxiety disorder at some point in their life," said Dr Michael Cummings, Vice Chair of Psychiatry at UB and Associate Medical Director of ECMC.

"We're talking about kids going back to school, but really it's kids, parents and teachers trying to determine how we're going to navigate this uncharted territory." Cummings said anxiety is a natural biological response. "We can get panic attacks for no reason whatsoever. But we have a lot of concern right now about everything from schools that should have never closed, to schools that shouldn't be open until there's a vaccine, and everything in between," he said.

Uncertainty is the primary driver of anxiety. Cummings is like thousands of parents waiting for a text from his own school district about the plan for reopening of his children's school.

Loss of sleep, complaints about a headache and an upset stomach are signs of anxiety.

Cummings points out that while many are anxious about going back to school, and anxious about Covid, school is about so much more than learning to read and do math. "School is developmental windows where children learn to become young adults and those developmental
milestones are important. You can repeat 5th grade, but you can't repeat adolescence."  As a parent and child psychiatrist, he is hoping school returns, as close to normal as possible. "The developmental losses that we're having with kids being out of school and on Zoom, are far reaching. This will endure much longer than Covid," he said.

Questions and answers with Dr. Michael Cummings:

(Q) How to know when to seek professional help?
"The most important thing is to have open communication within your family. Parents know their children and when things start getting out of the norm, with sleep and appetite issues, crying and agitation, that's when it's time to reach out.. Anxiety and depression go hand in hand. If you start hearing self-hate talk, that's when its time to reach out. There are a myriad of resources out there. Start with your primary care doctor. There are also counselors available in all school districts."

(Q) What can parents do now to get kids ready?
Talk about what it's going to be like. Talk about the worries they have. Think about kids changing schools for the first time. They're already nervous and now they may be entering a classroom of eight people and behind Plexiglas.  Build a structure; I can't stress that enough.  If you're doing hybrid, where the child is in school two days a week, you have to figure out how to make the other three days feel a lot like the other two. The worst thing you can do is have a situation where kids stay up until midnight and sleep until noon on the days they're "off".  And then get up early for school on the days they're "on".  This is important for every child, but it's extremely important for the special needs population.That group of families is even more anxious because not only do their children get educated, but they also get speech, occupational therapy and physical therapy, which they are not getting while school is out."

(Q) How to cope with anxiety?
"Sleep. exercise, getting outside, having activities and social interactions with others can relieve stress in a healthy way.
Try to limit time on Facebook and be mindful of what your kids are seeing on social media. Our children are having ongoing conversations about going back to school among their peers that we, as parents, are not supervising on social media.