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Hello Idaho: Parents, here's how to talk about back to school anxiety and stress

One doctor advises parents to talk with others about difficult choices and focus on the available options to avoid repetitively worrying about uncontrollable things.

BOISE, Idaho — The idea of sending children back to school in the middle of a pandemic can be stressful, scary, and provide parents with major feelings of uncertainty.

Those who may be experiencing these emotions could be facing anxiety. That's why knowing how to discuss these feelings can be beneficial as the new school year approaches.

According to Dr. Dennis Woody, a senior clinical services consultant for Optum Idaho, anxiety is an emotional and physical response to the perception of threat, risk, or worry.

“Although we are social beings and we like surprises, we typically don’t like uncertainty when it involves circumstances of high risk,” Dr. Woody explained. “When you talk about COVID and our children, the risks don’t get any higher. Now, uncertainty under conditions such as a pandemic creates stress, and too much stress can generate anxiety.”

Talking with other parents in a similar situation can also help minimize anxious feelings, rather than battling one's emotions alone and internally.

“It’s important to not fight with yourself about the fact that you’re conflicted…you probably should be conflicted because you don’t have a lot of very good options, and consulting with other people about what those options could include is really important,” he said. “But don’t rehearse in your mind over and over again [with] some of this doomscrolling that happens when we’re worried.”

Dr. Woody added that worrying about the things you can control is a much better use of time and energy than worrying about factors outside one's sphere of control, as a parent.

“I think the notion of your perception of what you have control over becomes really important, and it’s what enables people to move into very dangerous or risky situations, knowing that they won’t be able to control everything, but at least they have an option on some things,” he said. “Those sorts of perceptions and confidence really do embolden them, and actually increase their effectiveness when they’re confronted by these things.”

Yoga, exercise, and deep breathing are also valid solutions to help cope with anxiety.

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