Back To School: How To Stay Mentally Well


Since the onset of the pandemic, most students from elementary to high school have been in and out of their classrooms for the past year and a half.

This has sparked massive amounts of stress, anxiety, and fear that have affected students in their ability to “go back to normal learning.”

The mental toll from at-home learning, physical distancing from classmates and friends, the cancellation of sports, clubs, activities, and milestone events (i.e. graduation) has impacted youth in their ability to bounce back as quickly as they used to.

Undoubtedly, the pandemic has made a traditional school a difficult place to jump back into after many months of uncertainty. So what’s the solution?

Before going back to the first day of school, every student will need to get prepared in many ways. Let’s take a look at some of the ways youth can refocus themselves for school.

Acknowledge Your Feelings

Although the pandemic, and constantly shifting from at-home to at-school learning has stirred many new emotions, not everyone feels the same and that’s okay.

Some students are quite nervous about going physically back to school, while others are excited and looking forward to it. Both of those feelings are valid.

Acknowledging and accepting how you feel is the only opinion that matters. You should not feel any type of pressure to feel a certain type of way because of those around you whether that’s from family, friends, teachers, coaches, etc.

Ask yourself and think about the things you can and cannot control.

Readjusting your mindset to focus on the things we can control relieves ourselves of putting time, effort, and energy into the uncontrollable.

Take Care Of Yourself

Sticking to a regular routine that includes a healthy diet, rest, exercise, and sleep is a great way to maintain that level of control while continuing to be productive each and every day.

Our YouthSMART Educators say sleep is a huge factor that seems to be neglected by youth.

“Sleep is one of the biggest things that we’re finding with youth that they’re not getting enough of. And because of those negative sleep patterns, [your body and mind] are impacted. Make sure that you’re getting enough sleep—healthy sleep—is important.”

Healthy sleep consists of a nighttime routine that may include:

  • Going to sleep consistently every night
  • Turning off electronics an hour before going to sleep
  • Avoiding caffeinated beverages at night
  • Avoiding alcoholic beverages at night
  • Stretching before getting into bed
  • A quick mindful meditation
  • Diffusing essential oils (lavender, mint, etc.)

Adding these small, but effective steps into your day-to-night routine can drastically affect how you physically and mentally feel the next day.

This alone time can also be a safe place where you can fully recharge.

“I use the cell phone analogy in all my sessions, and youth really connect with it. If I’m not plugging my cell phone at night, I’m not getting as much use out of it the next day before I have to recharge it. So the same thing goes for [youth], if you’re not fully recharged, you won’t be as helpful. Even on low power mode, you can’t do as much as you’re wanting to,” says our YouthSMART Educator.

Giving yourself time to recharge is not time wasted or selfish time spent. Everyone deserves time to replenish their physical, emotional and mental health.

Create Boundaries

As previously said, not everyone feels the same about going back to school.

“Since this is a new situation for everyone, people don’t know until we layout [our boundaries] for them. We need to reinforce that youth have permission to set their own boundaries,” said our YouthSMART Education team.

How you feel about each of these boundaries might be similar, different, or a mix of both, however, having an open conversation with family, friends, classmates, and teachers about these boundaries will lessen your anxiety and stress levels.

  • Material: As easy as it is for a classmate to lend a pencil, you might not be comfortable with them touching your things. If this is the case, politely let them know that you are not sharing your own items for the time being.
  • Physical: Learning and respecting your own, and other people’s personal space, is a very important lesson for youth. If you’re ready to rekindle with friends with a hug, ask them first if they are comfortable doing so. If they aren’t, that doesn’t mean they don’t like you or that you aren’t friends. Respecting physical boundaries and not forcing physical contact is a healthy skill that shows maturity and consideration for their comfortability.
  • Mental: The COVID-19 pandemic has piled on distressing feelings onto youth causing increased negative thoughts. For some students, thinking about the first day of school can cause feelings of panic, worry, anxiety, stress, etc. To offset these feelings, create spaces where those thoughts can disappear. Activities such as exercising, journaling, connecting with loved ones, being outside, and talking to a trusted adult about how you’re feeling are all ways to suspend those triggering thoughts that can harm your mental health.

The first day of school has always been looked at as a celebration of “getting back to normal,” after the summer holiday, however, the current happenings of the pandemic have morphed back to school season into a time of change and uncertainty from all perspectives; students, teachers, parents, staff.

Although you cannot change how the first day of school will go, or how the other days will follow, remember that you can control and allow yourself to prepare in the healthiest way possible—by putting your health and wellness first.

You are not alone. There is help.

If you cannot find someone you trust who is willing to support you, dial a crisis line right away at 403-266-HELP (4357) All crisis lines are confidential.

YouthSMART would like to thank Sagium and Kinsted Wealth for being our 2020 – 2021 website sponsor.