I think it’s safe to say that most of us got that flurry of nervous excitement the few days before the start of the new school year. And perhaps many of us would have feelings of dread…after all, you now have to wake up very early and get into a routine that for about 2 to 3 months you didn’t have to do at all. Or maybe that dread and nervous feeling are about more than just new teachers, school work, and friends. Some kids and young adults are dealing with a real struggle – Going Back to School with PTSD or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Some individuals who have experienced trauma have difficulty sitting in confined spaces such as a classroom. Others become claustrophobic or overwhelmed being around large groups of people or crowds. Imagine what it’s like in middle or high school when the bell rings – hallways are flooded with hundreds of kids at once. The authoritarian nature of teachers and administrators can be intimidating and daunting, especially to those who have experienced trauma at the hands of their parents or other trusted person in a position of power. Or consider the bullying side of the school and how that can impact a child.
If you have experienced trauma and are worried about returning to school or college, here are some helpful tips to keep in mind:
1.) Participate in therapy – whether it be an individual, group, or both. A therapist can help you learn more about your symptoms and how to cope in a healthy way, as well as develop strategies to begin to heal from your past trauma(s).
2.) Take a break – sometimes you need to take a trip to the bathroom or step out. That’s okay, as long as you go back and that you’re not avoiding certain triggers and are working on confronting your fears.
3.) Understand how your PTSD affects you – everyone is different. Despite being diagnosed with PTSD, try to learn as much as you can about what your triggers are if there are any patterns to your stress and anxiety, and how to successfully cope with the resulting anxiety. The more you know, the more empowered you can be.
4.) If you feel comfortable and safe, discuss any concerns you have with your teacher or professor. Sometimes the content of the class itself can be triggering and you might need extra time, or maybe you’re having difficulty even attending the class. Sometimes your teacher or professor can offer extra help or time whenever possible. Generally speaking, the more communication, the better.
5.) If you feel overwhelmed, break up your work into smaller, more manageable steps or pieces. If we think of all the work we have to do, we can start to feel overwhelmed, and then it begins to feel impossible. One small thing at a time.
6.) Consider other options. If you’re having trouble with the route to school or the time a class is being offered, try to think ahead to see if the class is offered at another time or maybe even online. Do what you can, but again, try not to make avoidance part of your routine as it can exacerbate symptoms of PTSD or anxiety.
If you are Going Back to School with PTSD, remember you are not alone. Feel free to call Specialized Therapy Associates at 201-488-6678 to schedule an intake with an experienced clinician that can help you begin to heal.