This article was written by teen reporters from The Mash, a weekly publication distributed to Chicagoland high schools.
By Andres Luz, Whitney Young and Caroline Sudduth
For some students, the first few weeks of the new school year are exciting. It’s a time to reunite with old friends, start new classes and get back into the swing of things. But for others, the new school year triggers a bad case of the back-to-school blues.
Although most students experience some degree of sadness at the end of summer break, those feelings have the potential to turn into anxiety or even depression when the school year begins.
“I’ve never enjoyed going back to school,” Highland Park junior Aidan Joseph Ezgur said. “But now it has gotten to the point where instead of being sad about it, there is also anxiety.”
YOU’RE NOT DREAMING, IT’S REAL
Although back-to-school blues don’t sound like a real medical condition, it’s a very real problem and can be easily detected among students at the beginning of the school year, according to Matthew Thatcher, a mental health counselor at Chicago Lakeshore Hospital.
“In the first two weeks of school we have a lot more kids who are coming in with signs and symptoms of depression,” Thatcher said. “It is a real thing and something to be concerned about.”
What triggers these feelings? According to Carmen Lynas, a clinical psychologist and founder of Advanced Therapeutic Solutions in Oak Brook, the back-to-school blues can stem from many different fears.
“It’s usually fear of the unknown -- not knowing what teacher you’ll have or what kids will be in your class -- or fear of the known -- knowing that it’s going to be a hard year or knowing that the expectations are higher,” Lynas said.
Though the anxiety of going back to school often affects students before classes even start, others feel the effects well into the first half of the school year. Hinsdale Central senior Sara Ramasastry said she just couldn’t shake her blues junior year.
“Last year I had an awful case of back-to-school blues,” Ramasastry said. “I just wasn’t ready, and for the first month or so I couldn’t even settle myself down to do homework or study or anything school-related. I didn’t have the motivation.”
After a relaxing summer schedule, the thought of a busy school day is less than appealing for some students.
“The idea of school just seems exhausting,” Ramasastry said. “I think trying to plan ahead… makes me worry about whether or not I can get it all done, and that causes a lot of stress and can be exhausting.”
TALK IT OUT
Venting about the long school day with friends can be a Band-Aid to the problem, but what if your depression or anxiety isn’t improving? The thought of talking about it with your parents can be tough -- especially when there’s not a common understanding of the problem.
“I think what parents don’t understand about it is that they perceive it as the child detesting going back to school,” Lynas said. “They aren’t familiar with understanding that there could be a reaction to letting go of something familiar and getting back into something unfamiliar.”
Explaining your feelings and fears in more detail can bridge the generational gap between you and your parents.
“I talked to my parents about (it) last year,” Ezgur said. “They knew going in I was upset about going back to school, so when they asked me about it I told them how I felt.”
For students who are having a tough time with the new school year, there are a few free remedies to keep in mind.
First, it’s important that you don’t isolate yourself. Even though you’re going to school and socializing with your classmates and teachers all day, pay close attention to what you’re doing at night. Just because you’re using social networks doesn’t mean you’re being social.
If you’re spending hours checking Facebook and Instagram, you could be isolating yourself without even knowing it.
“I think it would be easy to fall into a trap where you’re not using Facebook and video games to be social, you’re just using it to kind of withdraw from whatever you’re avoiding,” Thatcher said.
That doesn’t mean you have to go out with friends every night of the week, but it’s important to take a closer look at the things you do and why you do them.
“I try to think of how much fun it is to be with my friends every day, and sometimes I try to reward myself with time for TV or a book if I get my homework done,” Ramasastry said about compromising on her after-school activities.
It can also be beneficial to find a sport or extracurricular you’re passionate about. For some students, focusing attention on something fun and active can ease anxiety.
Last but not least, get to the bottom of your blues and find people who can help you get through it. For juniors and seniors, standardized tests like the ACT and SAT can cause a lot of anxiety. So can college applications.
“People really stress how it is important to do well on these big tests, but they don’t stress enough that there are people out there that can help you study for these tests and that you’re not studying alone,” Ezgur said.
Whether you’re reaching out to a tutor, upperclassman, college counselor or school therapist, there are people who can help you through tough times -- even if they’re just offering a shoulder to cry on.
Although the back-to-school blues can seem daunting, changing your attitude and outlook can be the first steps to turning things in the right direction.
“If you’re feeling school blues or you’re feeling sad about going back to school, remember that this is temporary, and that things can start to feel better,” Lynas said.