The words "back to school" can conjure up many feelings. Adults returning to school after a long hiatus may feel excitement, fear and trepidation, especially when it comes to one big question: How am I going to balance family, work and school?
Some amount of anxiety is normal in this situation, according to Nicholas Griffith, Psy.D., director of the Student Counseling Service at the Argosy University Twin Cities campus in Eagan (argosy.edu). Returning adult students may get nervous about the workload or competing with younger, seemingly more energetic classmates.
Students who have struggled with anxiety or depression before returning to school shouldn't be surprised if either state resurfaces, because they're under more stress, Griffith adds.
Help is available
"There are ways of dealing with stress and anxiety when they seem to become overwhelming. Counseling services at any college or university are there and can provide help in addressing them and coping with them."
One way to keep back-to-school stress manageable is to ensure that family members who express willingness to do extra child care or housework understand exactly what is expected of them and of the student. For example, a family member who's never been to college or enrolled in a graduate program might have no idea how much work goes into researching and writing a paper.
Students who have families might set aside a regular study space and time. "Negotiating this beforehand is a lot easier than saying, 'Oops! You have to accommodate my needs now,'" Griffith says. "I think the student can easily go into a panic mode. Then the request becomes a demand rather than a negotiated thing."
Make it a team effort
A significant other may quickly start to feel less significant if unprepared for these situations, according to Griffith. "How do you negotiate needs in a way that makes it a team effort rather than you against your partner?" he asks. "And when kids are involved, particularly when they're preadolescent, Mom or Dad has been available and all of a sudden they're not as available, they'll say in their own way, 'Hey! I'm here and I want some of your time.'" Griffith suggests arranging some special time with the children to soften the impact on them.