It is that time of the year again. September rolls around and school begins. For adolescents, teens and parents this can be a stressful time of the year. New beginnings and transitions are exciting. But can also bring with them feelings of discomfort and anxiety. For teens with OCD and anxiety, it can be especially stressful.
For teens with OCD and anxiety, a return to school can be an entirely different experience. The pace of summer is typically flexible and relaxing. With school comes assessments, exams, academic stress and social pressures. There can be a lot to navigate!
If you are a parent, you might be wondering – how can I help my teen with OCD and anxiety? If you are a teen with OCD and anxiety, you might be wondering – can I do anything to help myself as school gets started? Should I begin OCD treatment or therapy for anxiety?
Read on as we discuss and answer these questions! In this blog we will provide helpful tools and strategies for teens with OCD and anxiety in terms of transitioning back to school. We will also discuss OCD therapy and how it can be helpful.
Anxiety can manifest differently in different individuals. You might experience difficulty sleeping and eating. You might find it harder to focus and pay attention when classes are happening. As a parent, you might notice your teen is irritable and avoidant of people or activities. If your teen has experienced anxiety in the past, you might be aware of the types of symptoms that typically emerge.
Teens with OCD and anxiety are often aware of symptoms they typically experience. If your teen has been engaged in OCD treatment, they might already know what they should look out for and have strategies in place to address this. However, if these symptoms are newly experienced, meeting with a psychologist or other healthcare provider is always recommended. OCD therapy might be a good option for your teen with OCD and anxiety, and your family.
If you are a teen who has been meeting with a therapist for OCD therapy or anxiety-related treatment, you might have taken a break this summer. This might have been due to family vacations or other commitments for yourself or your therapist. Meeting with your OCD therapist before school starts can be helpful as a mental health check in and to determine what you might like to continue to work on in OCD therapy as school begins.
Identifying Sources of School-Related Anxiety
There are different sources of school-related anxiety. Academic pressures can highly impact stress and anxiety. Teens with OCD, anxiety and perfectionistic tendencies might feel they need to achieve very high marks without exception. This can lead to hours and hours of studying and late nights. Excessive time might also be spent on schoolwork, even when it is not always needed.
Teens with OCD and anxiety might notice that their symptoms of OCD latch onto school-related issues. For example, you might need to read or understand information in a certain manner (i.e., such that it feels “just right). This can lead to several different behaviours, including reading and re-reading information, re-writing assignments and seeking reassurance on how school tasks have been completed. This can be an exhausting process. These types of issues are often discussed within the context of OCD therapy. This might be of benefit to pursue should you notice these symptoms. Through OCD treatment, you can learn tools and strategies to help manage symptoms and achieve academic success.
Friendships and peer interactions can also be challenging during the school year. Teens with social anxiety might feel like they are being judged or evaluated when they meet new people, ask a question in class or need to give a presentation. Teens might also have trouble, at times, making new friends or reconnecting with old friends that they have not seen over the summer.
For teens who are starting a new school, there can be additional anxiety and worries. Not knowing your teachers or the school routine at a new school can be daunting. If you are a “new kid” in school you might understandably be worried that no one will like you. These are all new situations to navigate that bring with them understandable anxiety for teens and parents alike.
Summer might also be a time in which teens and adolescents have less structure. They might be hanging out with friends and sleeping in. Some youth also attend overnight camp and experience changes in bedtime routines and time away from the structure of home life. In all these instances, teens might anticipate the transition back to school, structure and stress to be anxiety-provoking. Parents might also be wondering how to implement structure again when summertime has brought with it a lot of freedom and flexibility.
For teens with OCD and anxiety, they might find that the lack of routine was difficult for their symptoms. For example, if someone finds they have time on their hands, their mind might sink into more worries and ruminations. In these instances, a return to some structure might actually help. Although it is still important to determine the best way to ease back into a very different routine for teens and parents alike. OCD treatment can help you develop a plan for when symptoms emerge, which can often occur during times of heightened stress and change.
Helpful Strategies for Parents to Share with Teens Upon Return to School
- Mindful Mornings: Mornings can be hectic and that can heighten everyone’s stress levels, especially when school is beginning. A helpful strategy can be to encourage everyone in the household to take a moment in the morning and just be present. This might involve opening a window and breathing in some fresh air or eating breakfast in a more mindful manner with no devices. This will help bring the overall stress of the household to a minimum.
- Breathing exercises: Calm breathing is a helpful breathing strategy that can be used whenever someone feels anxious. It is like pressing a quick “reset” button within your body. Taking four or five calm breaths can help someone feel grounded again and then return to what they need to do.
- Device-Free Bedrooms for Better Sleep: There are several things that can be done for the entire household to ensure sleep comes more easily. It has been found that electronic devices can impact sleep. Restricting devices for all family members at least 30-60 minutes before bedtime can enhance one’s ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. If parents adopt this habit, it will be much easier for kids and teens to do it as well. A household policy that is followed by everyone will more easily be followed than rules that are only imposed on teens.
- Coping Statements: People often find it helps to develop coping statements with respect to their anxiety and OCD. If you or your teen have been in OCD treatment, you might have already developed some coping statements with your OCD therapist. You can write these out around the house or have reminders on your computer. These will help you to remember that you can manage your anxiety.
- Mindful Journaling: Reflecting on our daily experiences can be grounding. This can be done in a number of ways. For example, teens can purchase a notebook for themselves and write down 1-2 things each day they are grateful for. This can also be discussed as a family during dinner time. Regardless of the method, it is very helpful to take some time each day and reflect on what happened as a way to stay more present in the moment.
- Grounding strategies: When emotions run high, we can often draw on our 5 senses to bring us back to the current moment.This can allow us to decrease overwhelming emotions and shift our attention away from our anxiety. Grounding strategies can also involve intensely changing our physiology (i.e., holding ice), imagery, playing with a favourite pet or listening to soothing music.
- Staying rooted in reality with our 5 senses and common sense: If you experience symptoms of OCD, you might work with an OCD therapist using strategies from an OCD treatment called Inference-Based CBT. You can read how our OCD therapists at Forward Thinking Psychological Services (FTPS) use ICBT during OCD therapy. When we have symptoms of OCD, we will experience obsessional doubts about many different things that our OCD latches onto. This doubt is very convincing. We often believe that what we are doubting is actually happening in reality. However, we can stay rooted in reality by using our 5 senses and common sense (i.e., what we know to be true). During OCD therapy, ICBT offers many strategies and helpful tools so that you can become certain of what you know to be true, rather than believing in the obsessional doubts that can be so convincing!
Parents as Pillars: Your Role in This Transition
As parents, you play an essential role in helping your teen transition back to school. Although teens might not always turn to their parents for help, you can still provide a safe and nurturing space for them to ease back into school. These strategies can often be helpful for parents”
- Open Communication: Establishing a safe space for teens to express feelings is essential in easing feelings of anxiety and worry. Having your teen know you are there when they need you is very meaningful. Finding unstructured times to speak with your teen are often the most helpful. This might include when you are driving in the car, going for a walk or doing some other activity together. These times are most conducive to having more meaningful conversations.
- Setting Realistic Expectations: Reducing pressures and setting achievable goals for your teens will often put them at ease. They might set overly high expectations for themselves. This might be something they need to work on. However, when parents set the bar at a more realistic level, it can be very helpful.
- Promoting Routine: Creating a consistent daily structure to ease distress for teens with OCD and anxiety can be beneficial. Talking with your teen about making lunches the night before, when they should work on their homework and when to take breaks can promote a regular routine. Ensuring there is some structure and predictability can decrease anxiety.
- Encouraging Social Connections: Help your teen reconnect with peers either before or as school gets started. This can help ease social pressures and allow your teen to feel comfortable with friends they might not have seen throughout the summer.
- Being Present with Your Teen: Modelling present moment awareness in front of your teens can help them learn how they can apply these essential skills. This might involve you taking a mindful moment when feeling distressed. Or you might need to announce that you need a break to calm down when emotions run high. However, you will return when you are feeling more grounded. This allows them to see in action what present moment awareness looks like and how it is helpful.
Seeking Help for Teens with OCD and Anxiety: Where Can I Get Help?
We hope these strategies will hope you and your teen ease back into school as the long days of summer slip away. However, we understand that your teen might be experiencing symptoms of OCD and anxiety that are best addressed by a mental health professional. Does FTPS provide treatment for teens with OCD and anxiety? We certainly do! We provide online therapy sessions across Canada, specifically in Ontario and BC. We work with youth and adults who are experiencing moderate to very severe symptoms of OCD. Contact us and learn more about our team as well as our CBT offerings for OCD therapy. We look forward to hearing from you!
DISCLAIMER: This content is meant for informational and educational purposes only. Only a licensed psychologist or psychiatrist can diagnose a mental health disorder. The content of this website is not meant to be a substitute for therapy. Visiting this website should not be considered to be equivalent to a relationship with FTPS. Mental health concerns should only be discussed in the context of providing professional services after the consent process has been completed with a qualified FTPS associate outside of our website.