Stressed Out School Days

By Peter Gamache, Ph.D. & Jackie Sue Griffin, MBA, MS, Turnaround Life, Inc.

When you think of the phrase “back-to-school,” what’s the first word that comes to mind? Would you be surprised to know that for many that word is “stress?”

Tracy Humphrey, Provisionally Certified Mental Health Therapist (PCMHT) and Provisional Licensed Professional Counselor (P-LPC) and NFusion Project Director of NFusion IV Desoto County isn’t surprised at all.

“Back to school is a stressful time, for both parents and students,” explained Humphrey.

“Parents are ready for kids to return to school after a long summer of finding things for them to do, 24/7 snack time and hearing ‘I’m bored!’ But it’s also an expensive time of year: New school supplies, clothes, shoes and backpacks add up fast.”

The new school year is also stressful for students. Maybe they’re going to a new school, changing classes for the first time, and having to make new friends. Homework, class projects and other assignments begin again, and this brings stress into the home during the evening.

Humphrey leads development, coordination, supervision and implementation of all NFusion projects in Desoto County. What that really means is that she’s boots-on-the-ground and instrumental in developing a foundation for empowering kids between the ages of 5 and 21 with Serious Emotional Disturbances (SED) to become independent. Humphrey and her colleagues also focus on inspiring families to become the cornerstone of service delivery and creating new communities to find solutions that are culturally competent, innovative and inclusive.

When the new school year rolls around, Humphrey and her colleagues use their extensive training to look for signs of stress in both the youth they serve and their families; awareness is an integral part of the solution.

We asked Humphrey for a few tips that teachers, parents and students can use to make a less stressful transition back to school. Here’s her list:

  • Keep in mind that different people experience stress differently. What stresses you might not stress your partner or son. What throws your daughter for a loop might not even make you blink.
  • How we manifest stress differs, too. “I carry a lot of tension in my neck and shoulders and I experience great fatigue,” Humphrey said. “My husband gets irritable and goes on cleaning binges in our home. Our 11-year-old daughter cries.” Keep an eye out for physical manifestations such as headaches, stomach aches, fatigue, muscle tension and change in appetite. Or you may see anxiety, nervousness, depression, crying and anger. Social withdrawal, isolation, nervousness, disorganization, difficulty concentrating and insomnia are other ways you and your loved ones might manifest stress.
  • Once you spot a stress reaction–in yourself or others—talking really does help. Sometimes simply acknowledging the stressor or feeling seen and heard can bring calm.
  • Healthy established habits can also help with stress management. Yoga, mindful breathing and journaling are all helpful options. But stress release can also include more intense physical activity or even a short time of silliness and laughter can be settling.
  • When all else fails, find a fuzzy friend: “Our 13-year-old daughter gets angry and “resets” herself by snuggling with one (or both) of our dogs,” Humphrey recalled. “This has only solidified my belief that animals have the power to calm and soothe us.”

Whatever your chosen method of stress management, be sure to employ it liberally—and coach those around you to do the same–this year as we head back to school.

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