September is in full swing, and if your days have been as busy as mine have lately, the lazy days of summer are a distant memory. Getting the kids ready for the beach has given way to getting them ready for school, and parents everywhere are dreading the stress and anxiety that builds as we head into the fall and the coming holiday season. Managing a hectic schedule of sports and school, parent-teacher conferences and PTA meetings, on top of everything else that life demands, can make it difficult to remain calm and stay positive.
You’re not alone in your struggle with back-to-school stress and anxiety. Your spouse and children are also feeling the added pressure of the school year, which sometimes makes home feel like anything but a refuge. But with the right mindset and time-management strategies, the back-to-school season doesn’t have to fuel anxiety and put undue stress on you and your family.
Set a School Year Routine
As the school year gears up, you may find yourself juggling the need to be even more present and involved in your children’s lives with a suddenly full schedule. Parents inevitably take on the stressors of homework, grades, and peer pressure as they support their children through these struggles. All of this is amplified for working parents, who experience these challenges, but with the added stress of transportation and childcare needs, and sometimes even guilt over not being as present for their children as they’d like to be.
Fortunately, many employers are starting to allow flex time and schedule adjustments to accommodate the needs of parents. If you decide to discuss a change with your manager, “Don’t focus on why you are proposing a change,” according to work-life expert Cali Williams Yost in an article in the Miami Herald. “Emphasize how you will get your job done. That’s really all your manager cares about in the end.”
Whether you are a working or stay-at-home parent, managing a hectic schedule creates an even greater need for routine. Children thrive on routine, and establishing a good one can cut down on stress and anxiety for the entire family. If you haven’t already, make a calendar for the entire semester, marking all your important dates and commitments, so you have everything in front of you. But don’t go too crazy signing yourself and your children up for activities and obligations – too much scheduled time can overwhelm a family.
Realize that when it comes to after-school activities, quality is more important than quantity. Pushing your children to do too much will enhance your stress as well as theirs. Similarly, know that you do not need to volunteer for every bake sale and chaperoning job offered to you. It’s great to be involved in your kids’ lives, but it’s OK – and healthy – to say no sometimes.
Treat Yourself Well
When life gets hectic, preparing wholesome family meals can seem like more effort than it’s worth, and it’s easy to put sleep at the bottom of your list of priorities. Unfortunately, this is the worst way to cope with the greater demands on your time. Inadequate sleep and a diet of processed food are surefire ways to kick stress and anxiety into high gear. Try carving out a few hours on weekends to prepare make-ahead and freezable meals such as casseroles, soups and stews. (Check out this comprehensive guide to healthy freezer meals (from Thriving Home.)
Take advantage of grocery store conveniences like pre-cut vegetables and whole rotisserie chickens, which can take much of the pressure off of preparing weeknight meals. Timesaving strategies like these allow you to feed your family healthy, nourishing foods no matter how busy you are. And whenever possible, try to get everyone around the table for family dinner. This can be a great opportunity for you to check in with your kids and keep up to date with each other’s lives.
You know that routine is important, but don’t forget to allow for some flexibility and leisure time as well. If possible, keep weekends relaxed, where the whole family can let loose and enjoy time together. Autumn is a great time of year for family fun. Take the kids apple picking, go for walks on beautiful sunny afternoons, carve pumpkins, take drives to admire the foliage. The energy and mood boost you’ll get from the quality time with your family will go a long way in helping you maintain a positive attitude during the work and school week. nourishing foods no matter how busy you are. And whenever possible, try to get everyone around the table for family dinner. This can be a great opportunity for you to check in with your kids and keep up to date with each other’s lives.
Support Your Children and Set a Good Example
Studies have shown that children respond to their parents’ stress by becoming sad and anxious themselves, so be careful not to model stressed-out behavior for your children. Even if you’re feeling overwhelmed, try to remain calm and focused with your kids.
This time of year, anxiety can surface about your children’s future, and even your own past fears and regrets. Don’t project your worries and fears onto your children, however, or attempt to live your life vicariously through them. If you have a young child who experiences anxiety at school when he’s away from you, be mindful of your own feelings about saying goodbye in the morning and ensure that you aren’t projecting your own separation anxiety onto him.
Encourage your children to share their experiences, excitement and worries with you, but know that there is a line between being a supportive parent and being overly involved. Remember that your child is her own person who needs to make and learn from her own mistakes.
If you have kids in college, it may be a struggle to let go and get used to not having them around the house. In an article for The Globe and Mail, Cate Morrison, the assistant director of residence life at the University of British Columbia, offers some tips to parents of college students. Don’t expect to hear from your child every day, and instead, establish a weekly check-in time.
Your child will appreciate packages with goodies from home, which can foster a sense of connection and allow you a way to still nurture and care for your child from a distance. Finally, recognize that college-aged children are young adults. Avoid the urge to try to fix everything for them, and encourage them to seek resources on campus and solve problems themselves.
The Most Important Advice for Fighting Anxiety
While the start of the school year can bring on its own unique challenges for parents who struggle with stress and anxiety, much of our advice stays the same as always. A healthy lifestyle is absolutely critical to overcoming anxiety:
- Eat well and sleep well.
- Fit exercise into your schedule wherever possible.
- Learn healthy coping strategies, such as breathing exercises, visualizations, andother relaxation techniques.
- Look into anxiety-fighting herbs and natural supplements if you need extra support.
None of this guarantees a back-to-school season completely free from anxiety, but implementing these strategies puts you in the best possible position for facing challenges head-on and coping successfully with the stress of the school year.