In the 10th grade, my family moved from a semi-rural suburb of Fargo, where we had lived since I was five, to a tiny rural farming town in north-central Montana, or as I called it at the time, the middle of nowhere. I struggled to make new friends, and though I eventually succeeded in making some, I often felt excluded. All but one of my classmates had known each other since they were born, and all I had ever known was Minnesota. It was quite a culture shock to move from a semi-rural area in Norwegian-friendly Minnesota to a very rural town in Montana that felt closed off. For a year, I struggled to wiggle my way into friendships. I even experienced physical ailments that doctors chalked up to the stress and anxiety I experienced that year. Though I can see the good that came out of our time there (I am still friends with a few of those classmates), I will always remember that anxious feeling that I was not welcome.
Next week, our students will return to their classrooms and classmates. Whether they’re in a brand new school or have been there for years, many will experience that same anxiety. Anxiety is caused by a multitude of reasons, some of which, psychologists say, are the feeling of being excluded, feelings of inadequacy, or experiencing forms of bullying on social media. Experiencing anxiety can cause a drop in grades, a loss of productivity, constant worry, fatigue, and physical health issues like shortness of breath and chest pains. Since 2007, studies have shown there’s been a drastic increase in anxiety and depression in teenagers. According to the CDC, in 2011, over 10% of children ages 12-17 experience anxiety. In an article by Psychology Today, Jeffrey Bernstein Ph.D. said that number is now at 25% for children ages 13-18.
To the students feeling anxious about returning to schools across our area next week, remember you’re not alone and that there are many other students experiencing the same anxiousness you are. If you’re feeling anxious, find someone to talk to about it. The staff across all of the schools are there to help you work through it. If you find yourself feeling confident and happy, excited about the coming year, remember that there are those who are experiencing that anxiety. Look around to see who is new, who is alone. Be kind, be warm, and be welcoming. Seek to include others. Introduce yourself, and invite them to a group gathering. They may become a new friend, or they may become a acquaintance’s new friend.
To adults, the same advice applies. I often still feel like that new girl in the lunchroom unsure where to sit: unseen and unwelcome. Sure, I’ve become confident in who I am, which goes a long way to curbing that anxious feeling. I’ve also learned that a smile goes a long way when introducing myself to someone new. It may be a little ironic that I work a job which requires me to meet new people all the time, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t experience a little anxiety stepping into a crowd alone.
What fascinates me is that the more adults I talk to about it, the more people open up to feeling the exact same way, especially when they’re in a group that has known each other for a long time. That feeling of being excluded has never really dissipated. It’s almost like we never left high school, and yet, at the end of the day, all any of us want is to be known. So, include others. Open up your homes, your hearts, and your friend groups.
Hannah Davis is the Community Editor of The Forest Lake Times. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.