Stress Busting Tips For Returning To School

4 September 2014

Anxiety and nerves seem to have kicked in for both parents and their children alike as schools (colleges and universities) begin to open their

doors for the start of another academic year. Research shows that reasons for children and young people’s anxieties and stress about returning to school include anxiety about:

  • Homework
  • Coping with school work and their general performance
  • Starting a new school
  • Friendships and fitting in
  • Bullying
  • Asking for help and how to ask for help
  • Having new teachers
Photo: ALAMY -

Photo: ALAMY –


Parents too have their own anxieties about their son or daughter returning to or starting a new school. Childline’s research and recent experiences has shown an increase in counselling children over the last year with serious concerns about going back to school or starting a new school.


TOP TIPS For Children & Young People going Back To School: 

  • See this as another milestone that you are capable of, even if it is with help from someone else. Remember that the fear of something is usually much worse than the thing itself! Step up! to your fear and stare it in it’s face
  • ŸIf you are moving to a new school, see it as an opportunity to make new friends and have new experiences rather than something bad or negative
  • ŸAsk for an opportunity to view the new school, if it is not too late, or go to visit it again if you have already viewed it. Take a tour around the area and familiarize yourself with its surroundings. This may help you to feel more comfortable on the first day.
  • Be as prepared and as organised as you can for your first day back at school, or starting your new school. Or ask for help from parents or school mates
  • ŸHave a plan to complete school work on time and follow through with it.  Sticking to your plan will help you to have more time for socializing and enjoying fun stuff
  • ŸGet enough sleep to recharge your batteries so that you have enough energy during the school day.

TOP TIPS For Parents

  • Share your concerns about your son/daughter returning to school with someone else so that you are not carrying it alone
  • Whatever the situation with your child’s school (college, university), be strong and stay strong for them as well as for yourself. Manage your own emotions so that your son or daughter is not placed in a position of having to help you to manage your emotions
  • See my article on School Refusal
  • Check you with your son or daughter what their thoughts are about going back to school and most importantly listen. This might seem like stating the obvious, however, the number one tension between young people and their parents is that they feel their parents do not listen to them. Listen also to their feelings and to what they are not saying and reflect that back to them.
  • Stay calm in the sight of your child’s anxiety and panic about returning to school or starting a new school. Your calmness and composure will help them to compose themselves to some extent.
  • Depending on your child’s age, help them tot be as organised as possible for their first day, and on an on-going basis. Being organised and prepared on the first day can help to take a lot of pressure off them and gives them one less thing to worry about.
  • Become aware of warning signs or stress leading up to the return to school.
  • Sometimes stress and anxiety can manifest itself into physical symptoms. For instance, stomach aches, headaches, vomiting, sudden outbursts of aggression, self harm or crying. Check out with your son/daughter what else is going on for them at the time of having these symptoms. If it is a case of self harm, do get self harm help from your doctor where necessary.
  • Take responsibility for ensuring your children get to bed at a reasonable time dependent on their age, to give them a better chance of coping with the school day. One of my nieces used to insist that her 3 year old son would not and could not sleep before 11.00pm. The nursery school constantly reported that he was tired, hyperactive and aggressive. He was clearly deprived of sleep. After working with her and guiding her for just one evening on how to get him to bed at a reasonable time for his age, she feedback a week later to say that he had been going to bed at 7.30pm for the whole week and had slept through the night. The nursery school feedback to her the same week about the difference in his behaviour and energy levels.

Would You Respond To Physical Illness Like This?

7 January 2014

What if we treated mental illness like we did physical illness?

Imagine an individual with severe flu and some people responded as they would do to a mental health issue:

“Why don’t you just try…not having the flu?”

“How come you are not normal like everyone else?”

“It’s just a phase, it’ll pass”

“I don’t think its right to take so much medication for your flu. Go out, socialise and exercise, that will make you better”

“Just change your frame of mind and things will change”

Sadly these common responses to mental health issues such as anxiety, depression or self harm are not the result of insensitivity but rather lack of understanding. Hospital trained-Chaplain Diane Weber Bederman condemns these kinds of reactions. She compares a man who crashes his car due to a heart attack but kills people in the process to a man who shoots people whilst suffering from an acute psychotic break. Her diagnosis, ‘In truth, neither one is to blame for their illness or the tragic unpredictable event’. Bederman ltMentalIllnessbelieves less sympathy will be held for those experiencing mental health issues who then harm others as a result of their problems ‘”Mental” illness drags behind it a heavy bag of ignorance and confusion that has led to the stigma of shame and prejudice for those with the illness as well as their families, and continues to promote fear in the public square.’ Indeed high profile cases in recent years can be seen to fuel people’s fear of the mentally ill and hinder understanding.

Nick Watts a campaigner against eating disorders who recently spoke at a school, was shocked at the responses he received when asking students opinions on self harm. A student’s response, “Self Harm, but no-one here worries about that, only stupid people do it.” This lack of empathy particularly amongst young people worryingly delays help for self harm due to the lack of education on self harm and other cases of mental illness. Watts is adamant ‘We should be working with our young people to bring up a generation that understands the complexities of these issues and can have these difficult discussions openly’.

According to a study, we generally get our impressions of mental health and what they are, for instance, depression, anxiety and stress as they are more widely known as it is universally believed everyone experiences them. Suicide and attempted suicide on the other hand, tend to be more widely known through the media and its large coverage of teenage suicide for example. Precipitators such as the media and school are therefore the common possible roots to helping those who self harm through information and facts on mental health and re-education.

It may also be important to take into account cultural context. Brandon Knettel a doctoral student in counselling psychology observed the differing attitudes to mental health in non western countries such as Tanzania. For instance, due to poverty, diseases such as malaria take priority before attention can be drawn to mental health issues. Interestingly however, those who experience severe mental health issues are more visible in Tanzania, whilst those with such diagnoses in Western countries are not as visible as they tend to reside in hospitals and treatment facilities. Knettel acknowledges this cultural divide and concludes “Oftentimes, rather than try to understand the cultural discrepancy, we’ll immediately try to solve everything as if it is a Western problem requiring a Western solution.”

We cannot tackle the issue of self harm and mental health without a clear understanding of the distinction between visible and invisible health problems. Just because we cannot see it does not mean it is not a priority, as Bedeman warned in her previous example with the contrasting diagnoses.

It is noticeable that the BBC and ITV have just recently started to encourage the general public to simply talk to someone that they suspect of mental ill health. Talk to them about their condition rather than avoid them. Just talk to them! Maybe next time someone opens up about self harming behaviour more people will respond with sensitivity and understanding rather than refusing to take it seriously until we ‘see’ the scars.

Can Drinking Be Classed As Self Harm?

6 December 2013

Self harming does not necessarily need to be physically painful, it can in fact occur without the individual knowing what they are doing to themselves. Ordinary behaviour such as over eating, smoking or working long hours can all help numb the pain an individual is going through. This can however be categorised as self destructive behaviour, one of the most fatal being drinking excessively. Although alcohol consumption is an everyday activity for some it is important to raise self harm awareness in relation to alcohol consumption.

According to the National Suicide Research Foundation there is a direct link between self harming and excessive drinking. Reinforced by professor Arensman, director of research, self harm is a “direct effect of the depressive effect of heavy drinking”. It is reported that 38% of 12,010 self harm cases were related to alcohol consumption. They even suggest that by ending heavy drinking amongst adolescents and young people they could reduce self harm by 17% in 2-3 years. It is also interesting to point out that this behaviour peaks during holiday season where people are admitted to the emergency department from self harming after consuming alcohol, requiring increased help for self harm. Dates like New Year’s Day and bank holidays show self harming and alcohol consumption is “very strongly associated with public holidays”.


It is no surprise that harmful consumptions of alcohol can count as self harm and not the traditional cutting that many would assume, since self harm is a means of relieving pain and negative emotions. As there are healthy ways to reduce stress such as exercising and relaxation there are unhealthy ways such as drinking or smoking. People who suffer from Bipolar or mood disorders for instance are more likely to abuse alcohol or drugs than those without such disorders. In order to provide self harm help it is therefore vital to inform individuals of safer methods of reducing stress and managing emotional discomfort.

Additionally, alcohol can lead to impulsive actions such as self harm or suicidal behaviour by removing inhibitions and making an individual behave in ways they would not normally behave. According to NHS Scotland for example more than half of hospital attendees who self injured claimed to drink before or during the act. 27% of men and 19% of women gave alcohol as the reason behind their self harming.

Helping those who self harm seems a daunting task due to the serious nature of self harm according to those not fully informed, but even the most common actions can be detrimental to one’s health. Over consumption of cigarettes, food, work, reckless behaviour and ultimately alcohol can provide temporary escape from negative feelings but could soon become a dangerous addiction and ultimately lead to physical harm to the body and mind. Adding to this, by self harming under the influence of alcohol an individual is less likely to be aware of their actions and less likely to stop. For many individuals it is easy to choose fast relief for pain, which is why we must push for healthier and safer means to reduce negative feelings and ultimately self harm.