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Feeling Anxious About Going Back To School? Try This Mental Health Checklist

Daniel Amen, M.D.
Author:
September 21, 2020
Daniel Amen, M.D.
Clinical neuroscientist psychiatrist
By Daniel Amen, M.D.
Clinical neuroscientist psychiatrist
Daniel Amen, MD, is a clinical neuroscientist psychiatrist, physician, professor and 10-time New York Times bestselling author. He is a double board-certified child and adult psychiatrist and founder of Amen Clinics, Inc.
Woman Sitting Outdoors in Business Attire and a Face Mask Journaling
Image by Manu Prats / Stocksy
September 21, 2020

When you're heading back to college after summer break, it's common to feel nervous about the new school year. This year, however, there's a growing crisis of anxiety related to the pandemic among college students.

A report from Student Experience in the Research University (SERU) Consortium on 30,725 undergraduates from nine universities found that 39% of students reported generalized anxiety disorder. That's 1.5 times higher than in 2019. 

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If your anxiety about college is spinning out of control, here's a mental health checklist that will help you calm your emotional brain and soothe anxiety:

1.

Don't believe every single thought you have.

Your thoughts lie. They lie a lot. If you're filled with automatic negative thoughts (ANTs) like, "If we go back to school, I know we're all going to catch COVID and die," it will fuel anxiety.

Questioning your thoughts can reduce anxiety. Whenever you have an anxious thought, ask yourself if it's true, then talk back to the ANT to quell it.

2.

Pay attention to what you eat.

Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids (think: salmon, tuna, and walnuts) have been found to calm anxiety1. I also recommend asparagus, pumpkin seeds, and dark chocolate for their anti-anxiety properties.

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3.

Make sleep a priority to calm stress.

Aim for seven to eight hours of sleep at night—getting adequate sleep can not only keep your stress hormone (cortisol) levels in check, but it can also help support your immune system. If you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep (which is especially common these days), consider natural sleep supplements, such as magnesium, GABA, and L-theanine.

4.

Have a plan to connect safely.

To calm fears about the threat of COVID-19, find ways to connect with your friends while maintaining physical distance. Try meeting up with friends in a safe space, ideally outdoors; grab a coffee or enjoy outdoor dining together; set up a virtual party over video chat; or even just find time to phone a loved one on a daily basis.

Social connection is crucial to our overall health and well-being, and finding ways to do so safely can have a majorly positive impact on your mental health2.

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5.

It's OK if you're not OK.

Feeling some anxiety about being back at school is normal—so don't think you're alone in these emotions. However, if anxiety starts getting in the way of your ability to get through your daily life, that's when it's time to seek help from a professional.

Again, these are challenging times we're living in, and asking for a bit of assistance to get through it isn't a failure but rather a sign of strength.

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Daniel Amen, M.D.
Daniel Amen, M.D.
Clinical neuroscientist psychiatrist

Daniel Amen, MD, is a clinical neuroscientist psychiatrist, physician, professor and 10-time New York Times bestselling author. He is a double board-certified child and adult psychiatrist and founder of Amen Clinics, Inc., which has eight clinics across the country with one of the highest published success rates for treating complex psychiatric issues with the world’s largest database of functional brain scans relating to behavior, with more than 160,000 scans on patients from 121 countries. Amen is the lead researcher for the largest brain imaging and rehabilitation study for professional football players that demonstrates high levels of brain damage in players with solutions for significant recovery as a result of his extensive work. His research on post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury was recognized by Discover magazine’s Year in Science issue as one of the “100 Top Stories of 2015.” Amen has authored and co-authored more than 70 professional articles, seven scientific book chapters and 40-plus books, including the No. 1 New York Times bestsellers, “The Daniel Plan” and “Change Your Brain, Change Your Life.” His most recent book, “Change Your Brain, Change Your Grades,” includes editorial contributions from his teenage daughter, Chloe Amen, and niece, Alizé Castellanos.