How to Treat the Back to School Blues


As summer winds down, Back to School time in Ottawa is upon us.

Let’s be honest: not many people actually look forward to this time of year. And why should you?! You’ve been enjoying the summer, able to sleep in, not have a schedule imposed on you, and getting to spend quality time with friends. It’s natural to anticipate the start of the school year with a certain amount of stress, sadness or apprehension.

But for some, the Back to School Blues are a more serious matter, bringing on triggers of depression and anxiety.

If you or someone you know suffers from mental health issues that are magnified by the onset of the school year, it’s best to get out ahead of the situation before things spiral out of control. Know the signs, create structure and systems to combat the issues, and seek treatment when needed. We’ll tell you how.

The Back to School Struggle is Real

shutterstock_561196840Think about it.

It’s been a relaxing summer. You slept in… like, a lot. You got to hang out with friends. Maybe you traveled, or you spent time at the cottage. It seemed like summer could go on forever.

Then, slowly but surely, while it was still summer outside, you began to feel this impending sense of doom inside. School was out there, on the horizon, gaining momentum on its approach. Reality begins to sink in. School is going to start. In a matter of weeks, at first, and then soon enough it’s a matter of days. The dread sets in. Sadness takes over.

It’s the Back to School Blues. And, despite what some might say to make you feel like your problems aren’t real, trust us: The condition is real, and it’s experienced by thousands of Ottawa youth (and by teens all across the world) every year.

In the first two weeks of school we have a lot more kids who are coming in with signs and symptoms of depression.”

So says Matthew Thatcher, a mental health counsellor at Chicago Lakeshore Hospital. “It is a real thing and something to be concerned about.”

There’s the devil you know, of course, but also the one you don’t.

“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,” says psychologist Carmen Lynas.

Identify The Triggers – Talk, Journal, Plan

shutterstock_180775433It’s important to be open and honest about what’s troubling you. The opposite – bottling up your feelings inside, wrapping them in layers of denial – does nobody any good. Instead, find ways to identify your “why” and your “what” – why you feel this way, and what’s causing you to have triggers of depression and/or anxiety.

Does the thought of going back to school make your heart rate increase? Do the negative feelings associated with school make you tired, stressed or nauseous? Maybe even want to throw up?

That’s natural. And that’s good – not because you’re feeling this way, but because at least you know what’s causing these feelings.

“More belly pains, more headaches, more whinny behavior particularly with younger kids,” youth psychiatrist Dr. Bobby Jain says. “More trouble with sleeping and clingy behavior. “I think this is becoming more and more a problem. When the school year begins it becomes more exacerbated. But this is also an ongoing problem with kids that don’t normally have any anxiety problems.”

If you’re experiencing any of these feelings or symptoms, write them down.

  • Keep a journal
  • Take notes about what you were thinking or talking about right before or leading up to this
  • This way, you can start to draw the connections between cause and effect
  • Keep this journal going, well after the back-to-school period has passed
  • It’s a good way to know if you experienced a spike in feelings of depression and/or anxiety, for example, correlating with the start of school… or whether you may have deeper issues taking place

Another helpful tactic, in addition to journaling, is to talk to someone about your feelings. Parents? Maybe. Or, maybe not. It’s worth a try; they want to help, after all. But if you don’t feel comfortable talking with a parent, try a friend. They’ve quite likely gone through something similar – or know someone who has – and can definitely relate with the Back-to-School Blues.

School counsellors, teachers, coaches, clergy… these are all potentially good sources for you to speak with about what you’re going through.

Find What Works For You

shutterstock_200191589On top of journaling and talking it out, you can also develop and implement ways to structure your life … systems & processes to help you get by.

  1. Creating routines at home: Creating structure in one’s home life can help reduce stress by providing a sense of order and familiarity that can feel safe. Having some sense of order can reduce anxiety which can translate to other areas of life.
  2. Not overdoing it:It can be difficult to manage all of one’s responsibilities during the day. Stress levels can increase dramatically for a variety of reasons. In addition to school and managing homework, teens who also participate in extracurricular activities, have jobs, and other responsibilities that cut into relaxation time can feel overwhelmed during the school year.
  3. Use resources:In the age of technology, there are countless resources one can use to manage busy schedules. There are homework scheduling apps, math and science games, and portals where parents and students can login to view assignments, grades, and upcoming responsibilities. This can help provide students with guidance and assistance, especially if they are feeling overwhelmed or lost in class. Rather than facing those struggles alone, these tools can help keep them on track.

There’s no one right way. There might be some wrong ways (like drugs or alcohol, for example, those are definitely the wrong way, as history has shown us over and over again). It’s okay if you’re not finding success right away. You’ll likely go through a period of trial and error, in order to discover the ways and means that work best for you. Then again, isn’t that pretty much what you’ve been doing your entire life thus far? So keep your head up, don’t give up.

Don’t Be Afraid to Seek Help in Ottawa

There’s even better news.

“Usually (kids) are able to get over it by the second or third week,” Dr. Jain says. “If you continue to have trouble with homework, anxiety and things like that, then it’s better to talk to a school counselor.”

We agree.

Our trained counsellors know all about the Back to School Blues, and have helped many Ottawa youth find better ways to get through – and even (gasp!) enjoy it. For more information on the Back to School Blues and how to make the best of this challenging time, We invite you to get in touch with Ottawa Youth Counselling.