Back to school, back to anxiety

It’s that time of year again. Yes, it’s exciting to enter a new year at school, meet new friends, learn new things. But many back-to-school experiences are infused with anxiety — both for students and their parents.

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Student anxiety

Students of all ages are nervous as well as excited, whether they’re in elementary, middle, high school, college or beyond. Their questions vary on similar themes: will I get a “good” teacher? How will I find something I like to do and people I like to do it with? How can I make good grades without working too hard?

For students moving away to college, the thrill of living on their own is often matched by a latent fear of whether they’ll be happy. Whether they will find people who accept them for who they are, or whether they should “try on” new personalities in order to fit in.

Even going back to college after a summer away brings worries: will I still like my friends from last year? Will they like me? What am I going to major in? How am I going to juggle all my responsibilities?

Parents are anxious for our kids

We parents may try to hide our anxiety, but it runs high. We’re worried about how our younger children are going to choose friends, make good grades, excel at sports, get their homework done. Anxiety builds as they start high school. We fear that even tiny missteps will limit their options for college.

Clearing the college hurdle brings on new worries. As parents of college students, we have to content ourselves with what our kids choose to tell us. Even if we had tried to guide kids’ choices in the past, they’re out of our reach now.

We worry about ourselves, too

Those are the worries we have for our kids. What about the anxiety we feel for ourselves? For example, how can I volunteer at my child’s school while still leaving time for my job or other commitments? Are the other parents going to accept me as one of them? Now that my kids have moved on to college, what should I do? Should I change jobs, start working again, go back to school, take up a new interest? How will my spouse and I get along with each other, now that the kids have left home? How can I meet new friends, now that the interactions with parents I used to see at school or sports are more random?

Relationship anxiety

So we worry about our relationships with other adults, and also about how we will relate to our children who are becoming adults. But deep down, both parents and students want to know the same things:

  • How do I separate?
  • How do I stay connected?

 

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Letting go of anxiety

Vague advice for anxious parents or kids like, “Just chill out!” may be well meant, but it’s not particularly helpful. Of course we know that worrying doesn’t do any good! Various religious traditions (not to mention common sense) admonish us to let go of anxiety. For example, Jesus says in his Sermon on the Mount: “Which one of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?(Matthew 6:27 ESV)

For those of us who are prone to anxiety, however, it’s not so easy. As a near-professional worrier myself, I struggle with letting go. But my own experience suggests starting small can help. For example:

  • Commit time to take a “worry break.” Go for a walk or sit outside and breathe slowly. Get a pedicure or massage. See if you can think about something else for thirty minutes, maybe even an hour. Block the time out on your calendar.
  • Let go of one thing: Figure out something you’re worried about that logically, you know you can’t control. Don’t try to let go of all worries at once — just this one.
  • Turn the camera around: notice what’s going on in the lives of people you encounter every day. The cashier, receptionist, school janitor, or homeless person. Sometimes the simple act of focusing on another’s problems, even briefly, can give you perspective on your own concerns.

Letting go of anxiety, even temporarily, is something we can train ourselves to do. Not unlike learning to hit a slice serve or sink a four-foot putt, this training requires us to practice and build on small successes. But even little improvements will start to add up.

OK, it’s time for me to walk my dog. Likewise, go on your own “worry break!”

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Images licensed under CC BY via Flickr: Mari Z., T. Goskar, P. Nouhailler

Patrick Nouhaill

 

Messy today, empty tomorrow

Today my house is messy and happy. We just returned from vacation, so there are suitcases everywhere, mounds of laundry, mail spilling off the entry table. Plus the packing activities of my youngest son, who leaves for his second year of college tomorrow morning. And my oldest, who leaves tonight with his bride. My daughter was here for a few weeks, but she left nearly a month ago. Our house reflects a summer of coming and going, living in the moment, not concerning myself with clutter. But tomorrow they’ll be gone. The house will be empty. There will be time to clean, but I will be sad.

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When does it get easier to say goodbye to my kids? One or more of them has been leaving for six years now. Their lives are lived elsewhere. While they come back to share themselves with us from time to time, our home will never again be the center of their world. I know this is how it should be, how I want it to be. But I hate it all the same.

Tomorrow I’ll start to clean up the remains of a summer where I relaxed and enjoyed my family’s company. It’s actually easier now, since I no longer have to mediate children’s squabbles, remind them to do their homework, or drive to their innumerable activities. Tomorrow, while I clean, my footsteps will echo through the house. My husband will go to the office. Only the dog will hear my quiet crying.

For one more day, I’ll live in the mess and be happy. Cleaning can wait until tomorrow.

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Have YouTube don’t need Mom

Say you’re a teenage boy. There’s a girl you have a crush on, and you want to ask her to the school dance. But you can’t begin to tell anyone or get tips on how to act calm when you’re nervous.  Least of all, you can’t discuss it with your mom. She wouldn’t get it, anyway. She’d probably say something dumb and make you feel embarrassed. But that’s okay: lots of other guys have gone before you, and they’ve documented their experiences on YouTube.

Or you’re a middle school girl, and you’re itching to dye a pink streak in your hair. You know your mom will freak out, though, so you can’t ask her to help you do it. Again, no problem: there are tons of YouTube videos to show you how.

In short: have YouTube — don’t need Mom.

YouTube shows you how

YouTube is not merely the source for home videos, humor riffs, stupid cat movies and viral memes. It showcases people demonstrating all kinds of practical skills, answering questions like you used to ask your parents. You’ll find YouTube channels devoted to cooking, makeup, home and car repair. You can learn to sew, knit, crochet, do macrame or pottery, just by watching videos on your smart phone or computer.

YouTube takes over mom’s job

Mom’s job of teaching her kids how to do stuff is becoming obsolete. For example, none of my kids cared about learning to do laundry before they left for college. Never mind: there are plenty of videos online where college girls or guys show you how to wash your clothes, and they’re much more fun to watch than Mom. For more info on garment care, young men can turn to Esquire’s Virtual Valet channel, which has videos on how to iron a shirt, pack a back, polish a shoe, sew on a button, and more.

Mom’s not the expert anymore

Moms no longer possess exclusive knowledge or skills. Anyone can use web video to learn to make pie crust, peel an orange in one long strip, fold perfect hospital corners on a bed. My son sent me a link to a video for “spatchcocking” your Thanksgiving turkey to cook it in half the time. Not only has YouTube replaced me as the source of cooking knowledge — I’m now a recipient of its wisdom, directed at me through my offspring.

YouTube targets ever-younger audiences

As if that weren’t enough, YouTube assistance is reaching down to younger ages. For example, there are numerous videos on how to tie your shoes. Moms can get advice on potty training or sleep training from YouTube. But think of it this way: we can outsource tedious child-rearing tasks — especially now that lots of kids have iPads. Too bad a video can only show you how to change a diaper.

YouTube states that its users watch over 6 billion hours of video every month, with 100 hours of video being uploaded every minute. It’s no wonder you can find better how-to instruction online than Mom could have ever offered. More than that, you can learn stuff Mom never would have told you.

But YouTube can’t do everything

What’s a mom to do? She’s no longer the one her kids look to for advice on domestic matters or traditional passages along the way to adulthood. However, a video can’t look at the jam your son is cooking and tell him when it’s thick enough to put into the jars. And while YouTube might show him the best method for tying a bow tie, it’s not going to tell him how handsome he looks as he leaves for his senior prom.

Furthermore, YouTube can show your daughter how to pick up a slipped stitch in her knitting, but you’re still the one she’ll turn to when she gets frustrated and needs someone to correct her mistake.

You can’t beat YouTube, so embrace it

Here’s how I see it: YouTube offers more and often better “how to” information than moms could ever provide. It’s crowd-sourcing at its best. For moms, delegating instruction in tasks where we don’t excel anyway is a win for us and our kids.  It leaves us more time for the aspects of parenting that YouTube can’t handle. We get to focus on things we do best, connecting with our children in more meaningful ways.

And since we’re saving time by having YouTube teach our kids basic chores and life skills, we can do other stuff. Like watch stupid cat videos.

 

Image credits: YouTube, fdecomite via flickr

Communicating with your college student

When my eldest child left for college, he chose not to call, text or email us for three weeks. This was his way of separating, but I didn’t like it. My daughter, on the other hand, follows the more typical college student practice of phoning me on her way to class. From a parent’s perspective, neither of these communication styles is particularly desirable. But we take what we can get. Technology may have made communicating with your college student easier. But in fact, modern communication vehicles compound age-old communication issues between parents and our emerging adult children.

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Cell phones make communicating with your college student easier

It goes without saying that cell-phone equipped college kids are more “in touch” today than we were. Members of our generation generally shared a landline phone with one or more roommates. Sometimes the best way to reach a friend was the memo board on her dorm room door. Now parents can call kids directly, plus we can send quick emails or texts like, “good luck on your midterms!” or “buy a plane ticket home before prices go up!” There’s no need to plan for a Sunday night phone call or interrupt our kids’ busy (ahem) schedules with a short message or reminder.

Cell phones make authentic communication harder

Even with smart phones everywhere, authentic communication between parents and our college children remains elusive. While it’s great to receive a photo of your child and her roommates, you’d really like to know how she feels about her relationships with them. You wish you knew whether she wants to be going out with her roommates, or whether she’d prefer to be doing something else. In short, you wish you could tell from the photo whether she “fits in.” But you can’t. It’s even worse with boys, since most of them give their parents minimal information. When they lived at home, at least you could see them and observe how they were doing. Now you’re at the mercy of their choice to reply (or not) to your messages. My youngest has a personalized ringtone for me in the tune of La Bamba, “You got a call from Mama.” It’s hilarious, but I can be sure he won’t answer the phone without knowing I’m on the other end.

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Communicating with your college student: The iConnected Parent

The iConnected Parent, first published in 2010, addresses cultural shifts in parent/student communications that parallel changes in technology. Written by Barbara K. Hofer, a psychology professor at Middlebury College, and Abigail Sullivan Moore, a journalist who reports on high school and college for the New York Times and other publications, the book compiles Dr. Hofer’s research on undergrads at Middlebury and the University of Michigan in 2006. While it paints a picture of helicopter parents who can’t leave their children alone at college, it also connotes the complexity of parent/child relationships in the Internet age.

Parents and students average 13.4 contacts per week

A frequently cited statistic from The iConnected Parent is that, on average, college students and their parents communicate (via phone, text or email) 13.4 times per week. This figure is slightly higher for girls and slightly lower for boys, but it doesn’t vary by ethnicity, race or distance from home. (Ch 2)  While parents initiate more of the contacts than kids do, communication goes both ways. And habits that started in high school, such as a parent helping to edit a child’s paper, can continue throughout college thanks to the ease of emailing documents back and forth.

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Problems with the “electronic leash”

In addition to emphasizing the student’s need to further his/her own development by separating from home, The iConnected Parent points out that parents are short-changing themselves by staying too connected to their kids. In past generations, the empty nest period tended to give parents a chance to reinvigorate their marriages and explore new interests or careers. Now parents never completely end their child-rearing years, as they continue to manage their children’s lives via cell phone and Internet. A conscientious parent may feel she needs to be constantly available to her college-age children — indeed, her kids depend on instant access. But such an arrangement heightens stress for parents and can even create a false sense of security for the child. (Ch 6)

Communicating with your college student: cut the cord

For the sake of parents as well as kids, the authors say, both parties need to “cut the cord.” How easy this is to do depends on patterns established during childhood. The authors’ observations suggest that helicopter parenting has lasting consequences, and their research highlights parent/child relationships with these types of patterns firmly in place. Given this vantage point, I feel relieved to have fewer contacts per week with my college kids than their study revealed to be the norm. At the same time, however, it would be nice for my offspring to phone home once in a while . . . A future post will offer tips on communicating with your college student. But if I’m going to achieve the average 13.4 communications with each of my college kids this week, I’ve got to shift my attention to texting and calling now. TTYL.

Image credits:
the girl who owns the world via Flickr, Stuart Miles via freedigitalphotos.net, Amazon

 

Yoga for TMJ: does it work?

TMJ stands for Temporomandibular Joint, or jaw pain and stiffness associated with stress, clenching and grinding the teeth — often while asleep. Over ten million US adults suffer TMJ symptoms, with women experiencing it at twice the rate of men: nearly 7% vs. 3.5%. Dentists often prescribe night guards, soft foods, hot and cold packs — which can help, but they don’t usually cure the problem. Knowing that my own TMJ was related to stress, I sought to resolve the underlying causes through yoga for TMJ.

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Workshop on Yoga for TMJ

Even though my track record with yoga classes is spotty, I signed up for a three-hour workshop, full of optimism that this was going to help me when other things hadn’t. Although I got lost and arrived late, I was the second-to-last person to get there, so the punctual people reserved their judgmental stares for the lady who came last. Thank goodness. I quickly realized I wasn’t the only stressed-out person in the room.

Our instructor was a yogi and an experienced cranio-sacral practitioner. She was about my age and had two little buns near the front of her curly hair, perhaps to contain the longer part of her bangs? Her hair also had streaks of pink and of blue, plus a hairband to keep it off her face. She used a colorful plastic teaching model of the skull to explain what goes on when our jaw starts to tense up. The bright colors on the skull ostensibly differentiated the various bones, but I thought it added a cheery note to what otherwise was a sober topic.

The only downside was when our instructor dropped her visual aid, and it fell apart. She became distracted and un-zen-like as she tried to fit the pieces back together.

 

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Yoga for TMJ: the lion face

“Okay, before we do anything, give me a little lion face,” our instructor said. The Lion Face pose involves dropping your jaw and sticking out your tongue. It’s often accompanied by rolling back the eyes. Here’s a video that shows you how to do it. There are lots of funny lion poses out there, even a flickr group that showcases some of the best ones.

You can’t clench your jaw when you’re doing a lion face. Our teacher emphasized that we needn’t do a “major lion face,” just a “little lion face.” She would talk for a bit, then stop her lecture for us to do the lion face. She would also interject “now do a little lion face”  into the sequence of poses she led us through later.

After I told my family about the lion face, my son took to doing it at random times. We might be at the dinner table, and my husband would bring up a controversial topic. I’d look across at my youngest, and he’d cue me to relax with the stuck out tongue and rolled back eyes. So far, this has been the biggest benefit of my class on yoga for TMJ.

 

Benefits of yoga for TMJ

I learned there is a link between the skull and the pelvis, and that yoga poses to open the hips and give you more hip stability can augment the lion face and other things you do to relax the jaw itself. At the same time, I’m not sure I demonstrated the proper attitude during class. It was hard to remain in a zen state, when actually I got tired of sitting for three hours on the bare floor, not to mention my annoyance at repetitive, self-oriented and generally stupid questions asked by one of my classmates. Why is there always one person who asks dumb questions? Faking a pleasant look while she was wasting everyone else’s time was NOT helping my TMJ!

 

Yoga for TMJ: attitude is everything

There was also a section where our instructor taught self-massage, and when I questioned whether rubbing my temples so hard that my arms hurt was really what I wanted to do, she came over to me and suggested I use less pressure. She placed her fingers on the sides of my head and asked me if I felt that.  “Sure,” I replied. “It feels like you have your fingers on my temples.” It did. But others had expressed amazement when she did it to them, so my comments weren’t appreciated. It was as if someone had said, “The emperor has no clothes.” Clearly, the subject of yoga for TMJ needed to be treated with more reverence than I offered.

Owing in part to bad attitude, I’m not benefiting from yoga for TMJ as much as I could. But at least the class was fun and provided some good stories. Bottom line: I think yoga can reduce TMJ, whether through specific asanas or general improvement in the ability to deal with stress. I’m just not there yet personally.

In the meantime, though, join me in a little lion face.

 

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Image credits: Amazon/Wellden, Damn Good Yoga, Anne Rosales