For me, the end of August and beginning of September represent more than the promise of changing leaves, cozy sweaters, and the ever-divisive pumpkin spice latte. It means that we are in full school mode. This can be an extremely stressful time whether you are a student, a parent or family member of students, or an employee in the education system. And, let’s face it, this time of year can be stressful even outside of the school setting, as we are saying goodbye to summer and gearing up for the quickly approaching holiday season. Let’s take a look at some helpful things to keep in mind in order to help manage the stress of this time of year.
Create a routine: Routine can be as structured as saying homework at 4, dinner at 5, baths at 6, and so on, or as general as creating an outline for your day. This might look like saying homework is done when you get home from school after snack and then dinner as a family. The most important thing is to have something you and your family can depend on. Since life keeps us busy, knowing we have a routine can help to ease the day to day stress of figuring out what needs done.
Stay active: Whether or not you love to exercise, staying active is a vital part to maintaining your mental health. While some may love to run, take a yoga class, or lift weights, others might find it relaxing to go on a walk with friends or helpful to get up and stretch your muscles in between tasks.
Get restorative rest: Sleep is a key aspect to our mental health and managing stress. Notice the word restorative. A lot of people struggle with sleep-whether it is sleeping too much or too little.
When we get overwhelmed, sleep is one of the first things to be disrupted. A few things that can help are limiting screen time before bed, journaling to give those running thoughts a place to go, and creating a sleep routine. Sleep routines may include engaging in the same calming activities before bed (a bath, diffusing oils or lighting candles, practicing a meditation) and trying to go to sleep at the same time each night and waking up at the same time each morning. And, while occasional naps are not a problem, watch napping every day for long periods of time. It can throw sleep off. You can also consult with your medical provider.
Eat well: Just like sleep, our diet is one of the first things to be impacted by stress and mental health concerns. Focusing on eating foods that are healthy and filling is super important. Keep healthy snacks like fruits, nuts and seeds, veggies, etc. close by to ease cravings. Limiting excess sugar and alcohol, increasing water intake, and possibly prepping meals for easy access can help.
Set boundaries: It’s ok to say “no”. You may need to read that again. It’s one of the hardest things to say! However, setting boundaries is so critical. Know your limits and that it’s ok to decide you can’t help with a certain school event or participate in a certain sport or to decide not to go out on the weekend if a night in feels right.
You time: Take time to fill your bucket. The school year
brings so many things to juggle. Make sure time for you doesn’t get forgotten. Everyone needs something different to recharge and it can look different depending on the day. Carving out even just 15 minutes a day can be a game changer. Take a few extra minutes before y
ou walk into the house after school, get up early to enjoy some quiet time, practice mindfulness, deep breathing, listen to a special playlist, read a book, sit outside, draw, etc.
Stay connected…: Keeping up with friends, family, and other supports who want the best for you is incredibly important. Surrounding yourself with people who make you laugh, are willing to help you out, and who you feel good after spending time with them is key. Check in with others regularly. As a parent, practice having open conversations with your children daily (dinner is a great time-ask about the best part of the day, one thing you learned, something you’re looking forward to) is great for you and your child.
…But not too connected: Social media is pretty much everywhere and can be amazing. It can also create a comparison trap. I think most of us have thought “How do they do it all?” Remember that social media is only a snapshot of a person’s life. It can be helpful to limit time spent on social media platforms and to block or unfollow accounts that may leave you feeling like you’re lacking somehow. Use social media in a way that feels good to you, whether it’s keeping up with long-distance family/friends, watching funny videos, looking up recipes or crafting ideas, or sharing a funny anecdote.
Be kind: Allow yourself time to recognize all you do and give yourself a hand. And when it feels like those balls you’ve been juggling are falling around you? Practice being kind: “I have a lot going on, and I’m doing the best I can.” It can sometimes help to think about the words you would say to your loved ones and practice using them on yourself.
By Kim Howard, LISW-S.