Feeling nervous about back to school? Here’s what mental health professionals say can help

CALGARY — Hundreds of thousands of Alberta students will head back into the classroom this week as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to climb across the province. 

With the pandemic now spilling into a third school year, some parents and children are feeling anxious and exhausted — and staff at the Calgary Counselling Centre say the number of people seeking help is increasing. 

Cianna Renfrow, 15, is about to enter Grade 11 in Calgary and she says she’s feeling a mix of emotions. 

“I’ve seen a word, ‘nervouscited,’ and I guess that’s the combination of what I’m feeling,” she said. 

“Excited for, you know, being with friends, but mostly nervous because of COVID and how the next year is going to be.”

Renfrow’s mother, Selina, says she’s also feeling anxious about the safety of students and staff at schools. Both Cianna and Selina are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, but say there’s still a worry that they could get the virus and transmit it to someone else who may get sick.

“I’m not too concerned about disruptions, I think she’ll be able to adapt, but I am just more worried about her and her friends potentially getting COVID and then that spreading to other people,” Selina said. 

Both Cianna and Selina say the pandemic has certainly had a negative effect on their mental health. They found help through the Calgary Counselling Centre and understand some of the ways to cope with the feelings of anxiety and being overwhelmed. 

“Exhausting is a good word for it, because I think that feeling of being overwhelmed is more of a slow build of, like, ‘oh my gosh’,” Selina said. 

MANAGE EXPECTATIONS AND FACE THE FEELINGS HEAD-ON: COUNSELLOR

Feelings of anxiety, exhaustion and uneasiness are common right now, says Stephen Walker, a social worker at the Calgary Counselling Centre.

“I think worry and anxiety are a very natural response to uncertainty,” he said. 

But in dealing with the uncertainty, some people tend to bury the feelings instead of facing them head-on.

“People’s worries really tend to erupt when we try to avoid them or stay away from them,” said Walker.

“One of the ways we can really help our children is, in a sense, to kind of downregulate our own worries or the presentation of our worries — to help our children recognize the threat, or the uncertainty or worry, is quite manageable.” 

Cianna Renfrow Calgary

Cianna Renfrow and her mom, Selina.

Walked says it’s also important for people to recognize when they need a break, especially after dealing with a pandemic for nearly 18 months.

“Sometimes as parents and children and families, we can set rather strict expectations for performance about how school is supposed to go, or how we’re supposed to perform when really we’re exhausted. What we really need is a brief period rest and then we can get back to the problem solving,” he said. 

The Calgary Counselling Centre is one of several services in the city offering mental health health supports. The centre allows people to register for sessions online and payments are on a sliding scale, meaning people only pay what they can afford.

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