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Tips to prepare for a new school, going to university, or starting a new job.

Updated: Nov 10, 2022

New beginnings can be exciting but, for some, it can be filled with a sense of dread, and heightened anxiety as that first day approaches.

It’s natural to feel flutters in the stomach, your heart beating that bit quicker, stumbling over words or having a dry mouth. Experiencing a sense of loss of what you have left behind? Feeling nervous going somewhere new? These emotions are all normal responses.

But what happens when those sensations get bigger, your thoughts start to race, and you feel your anxiety impacting on your day-to-day life.

What you might experience: ?

· Our routines can slip as we relax during a break, our body clock might alter where we go to bed later than usual, and get up later.

· Worries and negative thoughts - Thoughts are often focused on the negative and the worst-case scenario. It is natural to feel nervous where there is uncertainty going somewhere new. It can make you feel more anxious if your attention is purely on the negative.

· You might experience your heart racing, and changes in your breathing rate.

· You might notice your own, or your child’s behaviour changing and gradually withdrawing from others, or becoming quieter. Or the opposite, seeming more restless and agitated than usual.

· It can become harder to concentrate or make decisions, putting some things off?

· As the big day approaches is your sleep affected, finding it hard to fall asleep or waking during the night? This also then makes it harder to function the following day.

Why is it happening?

There is an underlying personal belief, you may not even be aware of, that has triggered your threat system from a sense of vulnerability. What you are experiencing, or noticing in your child, is a very natural instinctual way of preparing to face that threat. Your body is getting ready to fight it, run away or hide from it, known as the fight, flight and freeze response. These responses are based on instinct to help keep us safe but, as we can see from that list above, they can sometimes be quite disruptive in our daily lives.

By increasing your awareness of what is happening and learning new strategies to help manage that threat response, you can feel better prepared for that first day.

What can help:

· Routines: Keeping to a routine throughout the summer, or the weeks before you start. For children this can instil a sense of safety and familiarity, creating boundaries and structure in their day.

· Managing worries: If you get into a negative mindset you are more likely to focus on the negative thoughts and images, and filter out any positive. By changing your perspective and reframing your thoughts you can create a more balanced approach to the situation. For example, “No one is going to like me”, “I won’t like it there”. Where is the evidence for this that makes it true? What else might be happen, what alternative outcomes can you find.

One different perspective is that interestingly our physical experience of nervousness is actually very similar to the physical sensations of excitement. So rather than being anxious about the worst outcome, could you view it as being excited about what is to come?

Note down any negative predictions of the day ahead and see if you can come up with a more balanced compassionate alternative. Where is the evidence that “no one will like you” “I will get lost, or do something wrong”. If this were to happen then you are assuming that you won’t cope. Heightened anxiety makes it harder to problem solve. If you were to get lost, or not get something right the first time, then what can you do if this happens?

· Unhelpful thinking styles: Avoid all or nothing thoughts – “I won’t have anything to say”, “I always mess things up”, “I never do it right, everyone is able to do this apart from me”. Again, where is the evidence that supports these thoughts?happens What other possible outcomes are there?

"I should comments": This can trigger our inner critic when we reach unrealistic expectations. Try replacing ‘I should’ comments with “I could”. Explore and adjust your expectations on what you ‘should’ be like. “I should be able to learn and remember everyone’s name so I can fit in.” Are these thoughts realistic expectations on yourself? If you were to change it to “I could learn a few names to start with and learn more as I settle in” how does that make you feel? Have a go at something you have told yourself you ‘should’ be doing/saying/behaving/thinking.

I should…….

I could……..

· Modifying your behaviour: Familiarise and practice the travelling route. This can help gain some certainty and a sense of control over the situation.

Explore breathing techniques to settle your heart rate, and manage other physical sensations.

Make a plan of what you can prepare before that first day, and set dates of when you are going to action those steps on the plan.

· Self-care: Be aware of comparing yourself against others.

Identify and name what is making you feel anxious, or name that emotion for your child. You can then either seek a strategy to help, or sit with that emotion. It’s your body's way of communicating to you how you feel, and that’s okay. By naming your emotions you are able to experience them without letting them determine your behaviour.

Connect with others, ask how they are doing on their first day, or ask for tips to manage the first day at work. Talk and share how you are feeling, or be open to listen to others non-judgementally. Their sense of threat and worries may seem small to you but to them they are very real and scary.

· Name two things that went well at the end of the day.

· Remember you are not the only one to have a 'first' day

· Take the day one moment at a time.

If you would like to know more about how CBT can help with anxiety, managing spiralling thoughts, and learning strategies that could help, then contact me at or use my contact form on the home page

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay


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