Social media lit up this month with back to school pictures and anecdotes. The end of summer or beginning of school is exciting but also stressful. Practicing good self-care at stressful times can help us deal with the stress and prepare us for whatever challenges lay ahead.
Here are some suggestions to help you make the transition from summer vacation to back to school.
Get in Touch
It’s important to check how you’re feeling and try to understand yourself. How did all the back to school pictures make you feel? Excited? Anxious? Charged? Fearful?
Getting in touch with your feelings prevents you from burying them. Burying your feelings now means that they will come out at inappropriate and unrelated times. How do you get in touch with your feelings? There are a few simple things you can do:
- Be still and remember. Sit quietly and bring your full awareness to how you are feeling. Think about the original event that triggered your stressful emotional response and focus on what your thoughts are about the event. What is your brain saying? Is it true? Is it helpful?
- Communicate your feelings. Reach out and share what you’re thinking and what you’re feeling. Talking through things can help you understand yourself better. It may be very difficult to express yourself but know that when you do you will feel better.
- Journal. Feelings and emotions can be complicated and sometimes too difficult to understand let alone share. Journaling is a powerful way to express your thoughts and feelings in a private but tangible way. Take 15 minutes, focus on your emotions and start writing. Once the thoughts leave you through the pen and paper (or keyboard and screen) you will find it easier to move through them.
- Exercise. Physical exertion does a lot to clear the mind. With a clear mind you’ll be better prepared to address your feelings and confidently move through them.
For most people the summer schedule is more flexible, we take more time off, we have less scheduled and more daylight. The days feel long and leisurely. Fall often brings renewed structure to our lives, like more appointments and more rigid time commitments. In order to keep up with the changes in schedule and new demands on our time and energy we have to take good care of ourselves. Get plenty of rest, stay hydrated, move your body through space, get some fresh air and schedule down time.
Make sure you get enough rest. Schedule plenty of time to sleep. There are many things that may interfere with your sleep patterns. Review these suggestions for improving your sleep. Following all or at least some of these will certainly improve the quality of your sleep:
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time every night – Yes, even on the weekends.
- Get plenty of sunlight and daylight during the day – Spend time outside, open the shades, during the day let as much light as possible into your space.
- Limit screen time at night – The blue light from televisions, computers, tablets and smart phones reduces melatonin production. Melatonin is a hormone that helps to regulates your sleep/wake patterns.
- Make sure your bedroom is quiet and dark – Sleeping with the television or radio on is very disruptive. To help eliminate disruptive noises try a white noise machine or fan. Use good light-blocking shades or even a sleep mask.
- Stop eating and drinking at least one hour before bedtime – It’s uncomfortable to sleep on a full stomach, and some people may be awakened by heartburn. Drinking too much before bedtime may cause frequent midnight bathroom trips. Avoid caffeine late in the day, as well.
Embrace the Stress
Kelly McGonigal, PhD, is a health psychologist and lecturer at Stanford University who recently gave a Ted Talk on “How to Make Stress Your Friend.” In her talk Kelly reveals results from research that shows how stress is actually good for you.
For years, psychologists have told us that stress is the enemy. Stress makes us sick, causes cardiovascular disease and weakens our immune system. The research that Kelly found showed that only those who BELIEVED that stress was harmful got sick. People who believe that stress is a positive reaction, preparing you for the challenge ahead suffered no physical trauma and, in fact, benefited from the stress.
Your body’s response to stress is natural and beneficial. It gives you the physical reactions you need to use your courage. Your increased heart rate means more blood is getting to your brain so you may experience better mental clarity. Increased breathing prepares your body for quick movement. And stress produces Oxytocin, sometimes called the “cuddle hormone.” Oxytocin is a stress hormone that motivates you to seek support. It primes you to do things that strengthen relationships. Oxytocin enhances your empathy and it acts on your cardiovascular system to protect you from any harmful reactions to stress. So stress actually gives us access to our compassionate heart and improves our social connections and relationships.
Change the way you think about your stress. Embrace the rush you feel from it and tell yourself that your body is preparing you for the challenge and giving you the physical responses you need to be courageous. Reach out and connect to people you care about and who care about you.
Back to school is an exciting, stressful and emotional time for many. The adventures of school bring adjustments and challenges to people of all ages from the kindergartener forging ahead on his own to that big new elementary school, to the mother driving away after dropping her youngest child off at the dorms. No matter what your situation it’s important to be gentle with yourself and be attentive to what’s happening within you.