Anxious about returning to school? Here’s how NOT to lose the plot

Good movies pretty much always involve a crisis – some bulldozer event that changes everything. We’re drawn to these movies because we all fear the catastrophic, and its cathartic to watch someone else face something we fear. A good story also sets up a tension that we want to see resolved. We want to know how our hero comes through.

Photo by Korhan Erdol on

A movie though, can’t really capture just how hard a crisis can be. A crisis can really turn a person inside out. And a crisis can last a long time – way past the length of a movie, even an epic one.

Right now, in the story of 2020 we are in that uncomfortable space between the opening of the movie (life as we knew it) and the closing scene (where everything is put right). It can be a time of bewilderment and you might feel disoriented. You may wish things could go back to the way they were, but at each new turn, you find yourself facing another uncomfortable twist in the plot. This can be stressful. So here are a few suggestions to prevent you losing the plot back at school:

  1. Realise where you are in the movie.

Many of you are probably still somewhere in the disorientation phase of the movie (about 45 minutes in). COVID-19 happened fast. And bam! You went home. But now you’re heading back to school, and your quest is to try and make sense of what’s left of your year.

2. Label and accept your feelings

Maybe you feel a mixture of emotions. Some of these could be excitement, fear, worry, or frustration. Half the battle of coping with our emotions lies in giving them a name. You may also find that you get more irritated or angry than usual. This is understandable, but if you don’t do anything about it, you could end up feeling worse. Talk to someone about this. It’s worth remembering that while emotions can be tricky, they also make the story worthwhile.

3. Create daily habits

Your school day won’t feel the same as it did before. Having new routines (with both old and new habits) will help. You can ask your parents for ideas, but one we recommend is that you start and finish your day with quiet, reflection, and/or prayer. Try not to start and end your day in a rush. If you do, you could start to feel increasingly tense and out of control.

4. Have a game plan.

You may find that it’s difficult to concentrate and that it’s tough to perform when it comes to your schoolwork. It’s going to feel like playing an ‘away match’. The field looks the same, but somehow, your game is off. An antidote to this is to have a game plan – every day, reasonable goals that you can control.

5. Look after your body.

Most action heroes have the right equipment. Yours is your body and you need to take care of it. Do regular ‘body scans’, where you mentally check to see if you are carrying tension in some part it. Usual places include the stomach, shoulders, chest, and legs. Watch your breathing. When we’re stressed, we tend to breathe in our chests. Aim to keep your breathing down in the diaphragm/ upper stomach, which is where we breathe from when we’re centred and calm. A ‘6-count’ breath can help here. You inhale for a count of 6, and then exhale for a count of 6. Notice how this opens the diaphragm. Diet and exercise are important too.

6. Long term goals

Don’t get drawn into all the subplots, keep focused on the main story. You may have a lot of uncertainty about how this year is going to end, and as far as COVID-19 is concerned, it’s hard to see the finish line. You may worry about the impact that the pandemic could have on your hopes and dreams. Please do not give up on these. Promise yourself that, come hell or high water, you will prevail.

7. Find your teammates

Don’t go it alone. And be a good Oke. Look for ways you can support those around you. Every hero needs a sidekick. It will be great if you can remember this as a time of connection and good memories, despite the frustrations.

It’s worth remembering that while emotions can be tricky, they also make the story worthwhile.

Overcoming challenges in difficult times helps us grow. Anyway, what would be the point of a movie without some obstacles to overcome. In a film the characters develop and change throughout the story arc. When things are normal again, when the credits come up on the screen, how will you be different? What will you have learned? How will you have grown?

by Dr Rob Pluke

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