19 Feb Turning Anxiety into Excitement
Next weekend will mark another milestone for Woodstock School during the Covid-19 pandemic. When students arrive on Sunday, 27 February, it will be the third time we have reopened campus since March 2020. The difference this semester is that it is the first time we look forward to inviting all students to join us in person.
It is an exciting time for us all, and even as we are busy putting the final preparations in place for students’ arrival, there is a buzz about campus at the prospect of moving closer to the Woodstock School experience we know and love.
I know many of our students are also eagerly anticipating their arrival at Woodstock. For some, particularly among our Middle Years students, it will be their first time to ever step foot on campus. After many months sharing virtual spaces with their classmates, teachers and dorm parents, they will soon get to interact with them in person. It will be their first night in a dorm bed and perhaps for some even the first night away from their family. It is a step into the unknown, an exciting prospect, but I am sure for some, is not without a little apprehension.
Our Grade 12 students will have a different perspective, as they join us for the final semester of their Woodstock School journey. On Thursday they started the 100-day countdown, which we all sincerely hope will culminate with our first in-person graduation ceremony since 2019. On the one hand, it is an opportunity for them to spend the next three months with friends and enjoy campus life in our amazing Himalayan environment. On the other, examinations and assessments lie ahead, final challenges to face before they leave here with their International Baccalaureate and Woodstock High School diplomas. Beyond that, as keen as they may be to move onto their next adventure, this comes alongside the uncharted territory of stepping out into the world on their own for the first time.
Instinctively one might think the best treatment for anxiety is to get the sufferer to calm down and relax. Fighting against the body’s physiological state may, however, be the wrong approach.
Excitement and anxiety could be considered two sides to the same coin. They are both states of high arousal, with the former born from joy and the latter fear, and physiologically have nearly identical effects – raising your heartbeat and rate of breathing, and causing a heightened state of alertness and awareness. They are also not mutually exclusive, and it is quite possible to experience elements of both at once, or to alternate between the two as one gets the better of the other. As parents and educators, it is important that we can recognise these emotions in our children and support them if anxiety gets the upper hand.
Instinctively one might think the best treatment for anxiety is to get the sufferer to calm down and relax. Fighting against the body’s physiological state may, however, be the wrong approach. According to research published by Allison Wood Brooks, Associate Professor at Harvard Business School, instead you should look to reappraise that anxiety and turn it into excitement. The 2014 study suggested that verbalizing the causes of anxiety with a positive outlook can help. The study asked participants to sing a song, before which they were told to say out loud either “I am excited”, “I am anxious”, or nothing. It found that there was a demonstrable improvement in performance from participants who said they were excited compared to the other groups. This in turn boosted their confidence in being able to perform well into the future. Wood Brooks states that the findings support the hypothesis that, “the way we verbalize and think about our feelings helps to construct the way we actually feel”.
If your child has any nerves stemming from coming to campus, you may want to try helping them to reappraise their anxiety. If they are worried about being away from their family, encourage them to be excited about their new roommates and newfound independence. If they are concerned about their upcoming examinations, remind them that this is their opportunity to demonstrate everything they have been working towards since their first day in school, many years ago. And if you heed Wood Brooks’ findings, get them to say it out loud, even if it is just to themselves, and turn their anxiety into a positive emotion. After all, there is much for them, and us all, to be excited about.
Dr Craig Cook, Principal, Woodstock School