Back to School Tips for Mental Health

Back to School Tips for Mental Health

It’s time to go back to school and the reactions of kids (and parents) can differ wildly. Some children are excited to see their friends again more regularly and get back into a routine. Others will miss the freedom of summer and aren’t ready to return to the classroom. Still others may have a mental health condition like anxiety or depression or a learning disorder that makes school harder for them. At the Healthy365 Connection Center, it is our goal to support families in their overall wellness, so we’ve got some general tips for back to school time that will hopefully make the transition a little easier. 

Get a good night’s sleep

People of all ages need a solid sleep routine to function at full capacity during the day, but no population more so than children. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, students aged 6-12 should get at least 9-12 hours of sleep each night, and teenagers 13-18 should get 8-10 hours of sleep each night in order to promote optimal health. 

The authors of this consensus report also noted that getting the recommended amount of sleep on a regular basis is associated with “better health outcomes including improved attention, behavior, learning, memory, emotional regulation, quality of life, and mental and physical health.” Lack of sleep can also increase the chance of learning and behavior problems, injuries, depression, and in teenagers, the risk of self-harm or suicidal thoughts and attempts. 

In addition, research shows that screen time before bed can have negative impacts on both children and adults, and can be associated with the “worsening of many mental health conditions, including depression and anxiety.” Reminding your child to turn off their devices at least 15-30 minutes prior to bedtime, and even charging them in a common space like the kitchen or living room, can improve sleep hygiene.

Find an after-school routine

Helping your child find a good routine for homework, reading and other activities is a good lesson in time management and self-care. For example, you can show them how the practice of laying out their clothes and packing their lunch the night before sets the tone for a more relaxed morning instead of scrambling to get out the door. A daily routine can provide more stability for children who have a lot of anxiety, and adding in a checklist of regular tasks or chores can offer an incentive to get things done efficiently.

Keep organized

Staying organized as a family can sometimes seem like a challenge, but going back to school can create a natural rhythm and sense of organization that is difficult to find during the summer. You can help kids always know where their things are by setting up a mudroom, closet or space by the front/garage door as a drop zone for their backpacks, lunch boxes and school supplies. 

Staying organized can also offer kids with anxiety a better sense of control when life feels overwhelming. Look for natural times to help them declutter their backpack or supply drop zone, like the end of each week, to help them feel on top of things again. Clutter in the space where kids do their homework can also contribute to distractions. Help them reorganize their room, desk or the dining room in order to find a better sense of focus. 

Be kind and don’t be afraid to ask for help

Another important part of going back to school is teaching your child to be kind, both by talking about ways to be a good friend and by setting a good example for them. Kids with mental health conditions or learning disorders may sometimes have a hard time making friends, so regardless of whether your child falls into this category, teaching them to be kind can make a big difference. 

If you think your child may be experiencing an unusual amount of stress or anxiety, you can look for these common signs and help them get support. In preschool-aged students, you may notice a regression to bed-wetting, baby talk or the development of new fears. In elementary students, you could see clinginess to parents or teachers, worries about their safety or that of family/friends, or difficulty concentrating. For high school students, you might notice signs of depression or agitation, taking unnecessary risks, trouble sleeping or changes in their usual behavior.

Do you need additional mental health support for yourself or your family? Contact the Healthy365 Connection Center today at 317-468-4231 to learn more about the local resources to which we can connect you.

Overcoming Performance Anxiety or “Stage Fright”

Overcoming Performance Anxiety or “Stage Fright”

Does speaking in front of a crowd make you nervous? You’re not alone. Experts say that up to 20% of Americans suffer from performance anxiety, also known as stage fright. At Healthy365, we help the Hancock County community overcome a number of mental health conditions, including connecting clients with resources to address specific anxieties or concerns like this one. Here are a few quick tips that can help you or a loved one with your next bout of performance anxiety. 

What is performance anxiety?

According to GoodTherapy, performance anxiety is the “fear about one’s ability to perform a specific task.” Performance anxiety can occur with a wide variety of tasks but is often associated with public speaking or performing for an audience. Some of the symptoms of performance anxiety can include a racing pulse and rapid breathing, dry mouth and tight throat, trembling or sweaty hands, knees, and lips, a wavering voice, nausea/upset stomach, and even vision changes. 

For adults who are out of a school setting, you may no longer be performing or speaking on a regular basis, but performance anxiety can still impact people who need to make a presentation at work, speak publicly at a family gathering or even have to do something difficult, like parallel parking, in front of a crowd. 

Practice makes perfect, or at least less anxiety

The number-one way to quell performance anxiety is by practicing. For people with stage fright, public performances can induce a “fight or flight” response out of fear of messing up, and in extreme cases, this anxiety can cause panic attacks. By practicing your presentation frequently, you are more likely to feel confident about your performance. 

Meditation and confronting your vulnerabilities can also improve your confidence and reduce performance anxiety. Stage fright can sometimes become a bit of a “self-fulfilling prophecy,” where even if you are well-prepared, your anxiety responses cause you to lose confidence. By practicing relaxation techniques regularly (even if a performance is not upcoming) you are more likely to have a confident attitude in the face of a public event.

Preparing on the day of your performance

So you’ve taken the days or weeks before your next performance to practice, but there are also a number of things you can do in the hours leading up to the event. Make sure to limit your caffeine or sugar intake the day of the event, and eat a good meal to give you lots of energy. Right before your performance, try to get the nerves out by jumping up and down, shaking out your muscles or taking a quick walk. Try not to focus on what could go wrong, and instead visualize a successful event and the audience enjoying your performance. Connecting with your audience by smiling and making eye contact can also be a helpful confidence boost, especially if they are family, friends or coworkers. 

Performance anxiety in children

Stage fright is extremely common among children. Your son or daughter may often get a stomach ache or nausea before a big athletic event or a school play. As suggested above, you can help your student reduce their performance anxiety by helping them rehearse or practice for the event. During these practices, be sure to offer them praise and positive encouragement, but let them know that you will still love them even if they make a mistake. 

If you are not someone who experiences this type of anxiety, try to understand where your child is coming from, rather than telling them to “stop worrying” or that it’s “not a big deal.” It can be tempting to let your child skip a stress-inducing event, but it may prevent them from developing coping skills needed later in life and their anxiety could worsen. One way to find a compromise is to suggest recording a performance to be played for a teacher or coach at a later time. If you see consistent and severe signs of anxiety in your child, you may need to look into a children’s therapist or family counselor who they can speak with. 

If you or someone in your family is in need of support for performance anxiety or another mental health condition, Healthy365 would love to connect you to local resources that can help. Contact us today at 317-468-4231 to learn more about the mental health organizations available here in Hancock County.