When summer closes up shop for the year, it's hard not to hold on to your melting popsicle stick with stubborn refusal. But once temperatures cool down and tans begin to fade, there's no denying it's time to say goodbye to the dog days. While packing up the sun block and beach balls can do some serious damage to the soul, nothing douses a sizzling summer like the cold splash of reality that is going back to school.

The end of summer often signals the beginning of a dread commonly known as back to school anxiety. This can happen with young children heading to school for the first time, older kids going off to college, or even adults who are going back to school after years away from academia. In any situation, coping with back to school anxiety—as a parent of an anxious student or as someone dealing with it firsthand—is crucial to starting a new school year on the right foot.

Going to School for the First Time

For those with young children who aren't going back to school but are, instead, going to school for the first time ever, this can be a nerve-wracking time. While some little ones can't wait for the day they get to pack a lunch and head out into the wild, wild classroom, the transition isn't necessarily easy for everyone. It's normal for your child to be apprehensive about their first day of school, but significant back to school anxiety can make mornings a war zone and even inhibit performance in the classroom.

A heightened sense of anxiety about heading to school can turn into a longer-term problem. According to ADAA.org, ignored anxiety in children can result in poor performance in school and spur further problems in their social development. School anxiety, especially for young first-timers, often stems from a fear of the unknown. That's why it's important to familiarize your child with their new routine and day-to-day schedule as much as possible beforehand. This can mean touring their new classroom, having a practice walk to school or the bus stop, and planning out outfits and lunches in advance.

College Anxiety

For many adolescents on the brink of their college careers, the gap between high school senior and college freshman couldn't be more wide and intimidating. Not only do they have to adjust to new and challenging academic demands, many of them will also be living away from home for the first time. This means cultivating a whole new support system and learning to live peacefully with an entirely fresh set of personalities. All of these foreign experiences can build up a lot of stress, which might explain why 45 percent of college students binge-drink, and almost 21 percent abuse prescription or illegal drugs.

Poor coping mechanisms like substance abuse can make stress and anxiety worse. For all students heading out to college—especially for those who already suffer from anxiety—it's important to get to know the mental health resources that are available on campus. Many colleges and universities offer free counseling and therapy sessions for registered students, including events especially geared towards relaxation practices and finding the best strategies to deal with stress.

Recognizing Unhealthy Anxiety

When it comes to a brand new school year—with all its early morning alarms and important deadlines—a little anxiety is normal and something to be expected. When this totally healthy kind of stress grows to a point where it interferes with daily life, however, back to school anxiety becomes a problem. "There are several signs for anxiety that warrant an evaluation from a qualified professional. Parents will want to determine whether the anxiety is: out of proportion to the situation; persists for more than a few weeks; developmentally inappropriate; and causes impairment." said Golda Ginsburg, a professor in the Division of Child Psychiatry at UConn Health and an expert on childhood anxiety disorders. If an anxiety problem is detected, seeking treatment and professional help is crucial.

Date of original publication:
Updated on: August 26, 2016

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