We live in anxious times. Will Iran get the bomb? Will we be laid off? How will our kids do on NJASK? Will we get a second date? If we are adults, anxiety can also stem from events long past, for example emotional abuse at home or bullying at school. Anxiety is marked by that pit in our stomachs, trembling, sweating, and a general feeling of dread. Our blood pressure and heart rate increases, and our digestion slows. It’s difficult to think about anything other than whatever is making us anxious. It may be useful to distinguish between anxiety and fear. Fear is a response to an immediate threat, while anxiety is a more generalized and amorphous feeling of apprehension. This is why the root causes of anxiety can be more elusive and can necessitate a bit of detective work to figure out. For example, anxiety can be triggered by anger or even grief that remains unacknowledged. Losses or betrayals in the past can render us anxious about relationships in the present. If we struggled with our schoolwork, we can doubt ourselves and become anxious when faced with a new task at work. The good news is that once we identify the causes of our anxiety, we are well on the way to finding ways to manage it. Support, consultation, exercise, and relationship or lifestyle changes are a good place to start.
We wait for fruit to ripen. We wait for our ship to come in. We sit in traffic. We wait for our loved ones to become more loving, to stop drinking, to come home. We wait in security lines. We wait and wait for a job offer. Nobody likes to wait, and sometimes it’s just torture. While waiting we tend to be completely focused on what we’re waiting for – for the snarl of traffic to end , for the sun to come out, for the habit to be kicked, for our luck to improve. It is natural to experience wait time as wasted time, and to feel that our lives are on hold until the waiting is over. However, it is possible to turn waiting into a dynamic and creative time, just the opposite of the frustration and apprehension that we normally associate with it. We can hum a tune familiar to us. We can remember things we used to wait for and now have, or now have learned to live without. Because we have no choice, we can really smell the flowers. We can breathe and write a poem in our head. We can practice being without doing. Amidst our national zeitgeist of immediate gratification, waiting can be a countercultural, even a radical act. And endurance really does built character, which in turn enables us to wait with a sense of expectation. When it comes to waiting, the means really can trump the ends.
The first day of school is almost here. Kindergartners are afraid they won’t be able to find the bathroom, that they might cry, or might not be able to get the straw into their juice box. Grade schoolers wonder if their friends will be in their class, or whether they got the nice or the mean teacher. Middle school is an especially difficult transition, and children entering middle school can spend the latter part of the summer worrying whether they’ll be able to manage their lockers. I find this especially poignant because I think taking 11 year-olds out of elementary school essentially locks them out of childhood well before its time. And then there’s the dog-eat-dog social world of most high schools, when peer pressure begins in earnest. While most kids come in contact with drugs, alcohol, and sex before 9th grade, both exposure and pressure to use then becomes relatively ubiquitous. Only ostrich parenting pretends otherwise. Entering college freshman must generally make the huge adjustment to living away from home, sometimes hundreds of miles away from home. We are pretty much the only culture that asks this of our 18 year- olds. And students themselves can assign higher status to schools which are farther away, no matter their academic reputation. Now of course the school years are also filled with adventure, friendships, and the excitement of growing. But it also truly behooves us to recognize the significant emotional adjustments children must make to get an education, and that they may be in especial need of support come September.