SSS: school social stress

Let’s move on to the second most common concern for going back-to-school: the social scene.  In the words of our readers;

“I get nervous about seeing people. I hate drama and I know that everyone is ‘afraid’ of someone and you just don’t want to start the school year off on the wrong foot. I think that it all depends on what school you go to though. If you go to a big school you’re more worried about other people than yourself, as opposed to a small school because you can focus more on yourself.”

“I am nervous about the socialization aspect. I get intimidated easily…ha ha. I suck it up and smile but inside I feel like throwing up….”

“I am worried about what will happen to me on the bus. All those older kids are so intimidating.”

We know that the social scene is a big stressor. Basically, it can often feel like everywhere you turn, there is another place to find acceptance or denial. The lunch room; where’s my group? will I find one? The gym; will I make the team? The bus; who will want to sit next to me? The hallways; how to avoid being road kill. 

These thoughts are so negative! But many of you have them, right? So remember, changing your perspective can help here. As one of our responders said, 

“The truth is, everyone feels the same way that you do, so if you remember that and try to reach out to someone, you’ll end up helping that person and helping yourself by making a new friend.”

The bottom line is that most of you are looking for a way to express or to be yourself in a way that feels accepted by those around you. Some people feel better when they run a few laps, or hide behind their dark clothes or lift themselves up by putting others down. There is a ton of insecurity out there.  Heck, if insecurity wasn’t out there, we wouldn’t be here trying to help you wade through it all!

In middle school, self-esteem is can be at the lowest of your life.  So what you are likely to be feeling is normal. High school is not so much easier either. It can be a tricky, tricky place – full of even more stress. This is why getting a grip on things now will help you in the future.  To do that, let’s learn a little bit about the brain… it will be brief and interesting we promise: So there is this part of the brain called the amygdala that basically controls your emotions. Your amygdala is fully formed and bursting with potential right now. So your emotions are super sensitive, trigger ready and at times, probably feel unstoppable. 

Now think about your prefrontal cortex. It is NOT formed yet because it is still under construction. Remember that it controls your impulses and your decisions. So put together you have lots of flying around emotions from the amygdala but relatively little control from the prefrontal cortex.  See how you are primed for some social catastrophes? It’s not your fault.

Remember our friend Dr. Toni Tarnell? Well, she also has some great advice for the social aspect of going back to school. She says that many of her clients worry about whether or not a teacher or student will like them. Worse, their thoughts can be very black or white, “they’ll hate me or they’ll never sit with me.” 

This worry is a direct result of your emotions — the amygdala — going full speed while the rational part of your brain — the prefrontal cortex — is desperately trying to catch up.

So what to do?  Give your prefrontal cortex the chance to catch up – slow down and think like a lawyer.  Dr. Tarnell constantly has her clients ask themselves, “What is the evidence for that?” For example, if you are thinking, “That teacher is totally going to hate me” and you ask yourself, “What is the evidence for that?” and then answer, “I can just tell, I’m good at predicting the future.” Well, that answer would not hold up in court, so get rid of it.  Don’t let yourself think things right now that are not based in concrete fact.  

For now, with your social worries think, “Do I have proof for that or am I relying on my emotions?” Because when emotions rule and you are less able to manage them, well, no wonder you feel overwhelmed!

Dr. Tarnell’s other piece of advice? “Put your emotions on hold as best you can for the first few weeks.” Stressing out when everyone else is also very confused and feeling insecure will only make you take things more personally. In fact, all those emotions flying around from you and from others can be a recipe for social disaster.  So stay calm.  Focus on your work and leave the social stuff for after you’ve developed a good solid work routine. Chances are that everyone’s emotions, including your own, will have calmed down a bit by then. 

Um, I’m like kind of freaked.  That was a lot.  I’m never going to be able to handle the first week of school.

Nicki?  What’s the evidence for that?


Have you ever flipped out the first week of school and then failed everything?

No… not really.

Then stop letting your emotions run away with you and stick to the evidence that you’ve always made it through the first few weeks of school before.  That was the point.  That should be your focus.

Wow. I think I get it now… 

Post Question:

What’s your best piece of advice for dealing with the back-to-school social stress? Are you following your own advice?

Answer the post question here

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