Sept. 16, 2020

The Back-To-School Hell (Pandemic Edition)

Back-to-school 2020 was not the finish line we imagined; it’s a reminder that a Return To Normal is nowhere in sight. But the anticipatory anxiety we have about what might happen could be worse than what does. Can we separate uncertainty from threat?

We are always a little reluctant about transitioning back to school. This year that reluctance was more properly called dread (despite the truly heroic efforts of the teachers, administrators, and staff in our children's lives. THANK YOU.)

We feel this way because we were supposed to be done by now, have this all figured out, have our kids skipping back to hug all their friends. But Back-to-school 2020 is not the finish line we thought it would be; instead, it’s a reminder that the finish line is very much not in sight. 

But for us, a lot of our anxiety around this was actually anticipatory anxiety- the masks and the Zooms and School With More Rules seemed scarier in concept than it really has been in practice. 

We may have fallen into "uncertainty distress," what Dr. Mark Freeston and his researchers at Cambridge call the "subjective negative emotions that one experiences in response to the as-yet unknown aspects of a given situation."

In other words, what we are dreading as our kids begin school is not actually that they have to wear a mask during PE– it's what else might happen next that we don't even know about yet.

It's possible to separate out uncertainty and threat in our minds. If we think what if school closes this winter? and feel our hearts start to race, we are reacting to the uncertainty, not to a direct threat. Worrying about each potential bad outcome before it happens will not make those things less likely to happen, but it may make us a little less nimble and ready to pivot if a threat does occur.

Whatever happens, lean on your mom friends, and remember that, as developmental psychologist Stephanie Grant explains: "Our priority as parents this fall is to remain regulated for our kids, much more than to provide academic instruction.”

Here are links to research and other writing on the topic that we discuss in this episode:

AL Inclusive Therapy on FB:

Dr. Mark Freeston et al, Cambridge University Press: Towards a model of uncertainty distress in the context of Coronavirus (Covid-19)

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