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Locker Terror: How to find the real source of back-to-school anxiety

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It’s back-to-school time at TFI Talks, and to highlight this time of year our expert therapists are telling their own first-day-of-school stories, and at the same time providing insights into how families, parents and individuals can handle back-to-school stress.

Today’s story comes from Nikki Lively, MA, LCSW. Nikki is a staff therapist at The Family Institute with over 10 years of experience in providing individual, couples and family therapy.

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LOCKERThinking back to the autumns of my childhood, I remember being so excited to go shopping with my Mom and younger sister for new school clothes and school supplies. Each year, I loved picking out a few special things to wear for the new school year and to this day, I still love the smell of a brand new notebook. 

However, the first day of my 6th grade year was the beginning of Intermediate school (i.e. “junior high”) and I was more scared than excited. I was leaving my old, familiar elementary school building and entering a new building with older kids (8th graders!) and different teachers, subjects, the works! Somehow I became fixated on the whole locker situation. The halls of my new school building were lined with lockers for each student to store our school stuff. I had no locker experience, and I didn’t easily understand the combination lock and became terrified that I wouldn’t be able to open my locker. Each time I approached my locker I would feel anxious. Each time it actually opened, I felt relieved. It was such an emotional roller coaster! It was probably a major stressor in my 6th grade life for at least for first 2 months of school that year. 

Looking back, I think the stress of all those changes at once with school, not to mention all the changes surrounding being a 12 year old girl and wanting to be “normal”, got concentrated on my locker and manifested in fears about my locker. As an adult and a therapist, I now know this happens a lot with anxiety. I always tell my clients that the focus of our anxiety can be really odd and is sometimes not obviously linked to its trigger. In fact, becoming overly focused on one thing in our environment like that is often more a red flag for our overall emotional state than the thing we are so focused on. We often need to “zoom out” and look at the bigger picture to figure out what the stress or anxiety is really all about.  

Case in point, once I figured out the locker thing, I moved onto worries about other stuff like having the right pair of blue jeans, and having the right haircut, etc. In 6th grade you just want to feel OK about yourself, have friends, and fit in, and at the time, my locker ineptitude was a threat to all that! 

 

To read Nikki Lively’s full bio or make an appointment, visit our website.

The Family Institute offers affordable, effective mental health treatment for individuals, couples and families at our six Chicagoland locations. Learn more about us at our website.

One response »

  1. Excellent insight! One we never out grown.

    Reply

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