5 Ways to Beat Back to School Stress, Naturally
As summer winds down, parents and kids are gearing up for the start of school. This time comes with mixed emotions for many parents. For me, that means relief that I don’t have to entertain the kids every minute of every day, but also the bittersweet melancholy of missing the next finger-paint covered hug, spaghetti-covered kiss or hilarious saying. This can be an extremely stressful time – stress from transitioning from the relaxed schedules of long summer days back into a scheduled regiment, transitioning to different schools or teacher, possibly financial stress from back to school shopping, maybe even the stress of leaving your toddler in her first day of school ever without you for two hours (confession – this last one is mine). It can be overwhelming. Below are 5 simple ways to help beat the stress naturally and reboot your energy.
Organize a To-Do List
It’s easy for the imagination to lead to the worst-case scenario when yet another item pops into your head to add to the to-do list. Giving your mind a concrete vision of when these items will be checked off will ease the anticipatory stress of having a laundry list of to-do’s without knowing when there will be time to get it done. For example, try this:
Prioritize your list from most important to least important by putting a number beside it – 1 for most important, 2 for second most important, so on and so on.
In point form, write down all that needs to be done before school starts. For example, changing bedtime to an earlier hour or buying school supplies.
Estimate how long the task should take. For example, 1.5 hours at Staples for school supply shopping (and if you’re like me, add another hour to that estimation).
Decide on a date it must be done by that will not stress you out. Try to avoid the weekend right before school starts as the must be done date – pick a few days earlier to avoid that added stress.
Check to see if anything on your list is unnecessary and eliminate the extra stress by crossing that item off.
Having this concrete vision of the what is to come as well as achievable goals allows the flight-or-fight sympathetic nervous system stop creating fear and angst, and replace it with a feeling of control and empowerment.
For example, if you need to change bedtime from the current 9:30pm to 8:00pm and you want to avoid the evening meltdown of doing it abruptly the day before school starts, slowly move up their bedtime routine by 15 minutes every 2 days so the children gradually adapt.
Strive to do the best you can versus striving for perfection.
There is a notion of this Pinterest-perfect mom that can do it all: make gourmet meals amidst working full-time, balance the families’ overflowing schedules while staying calm and happy, her and her children neatly dressed in the trendiest clothes. Are you striving to reach this fictitious character created by social media? Research has shown that those of us who strive to make the perfect decision, to be better, to be more, to be perfect – we suffer from higher levels of worry and anxiety. Why? Because perfectionism is stressful!
Instead, try this motto on for size: I’m doing the best I can considering my circumstances. This allows for the reality of your particular circumstance to be considered, which eases the pressure of doing what should be done if it were a perfect world. The decision does not have to be 100% perfect. Just do the best you can while juggling everything on your plate.
Eat well and stay hydrated.
Skipping breakfast and replacing it with coffee and then grabbing a muffin when you’re starving is setting you up for a blood sugar crash! That sugar crash results in stress and inflammation in your body. When you get stressed, your bodies’ response is to reach for more sugary or salty food!
Instead, eating regular meals containing protein, fresh vegetables or fruits, and whole grains will help to balance your blood sugar, keeping you full for longer and keep your body and mind energized with the required nutrients to fight stress. Staying hydrated is just as important. Water makes nutrients accessible to the body and helps flush the kidneys and liver of toxic waste product that can drain your energy and make you feel tired and irritated.
No, I’m not quoting Jane the Virgin here. I’m saying breathe. When you take a deep belly breath, you actively massage your vagus nerve, the 10th cranial nerve, which runs through your diaphragm (the muscle that moves down when you inhale, up when you exhale). Your vagus nerve functions to interface the parasympathetic nervous system (the system that helps you rest, digest and relax) with the heart, the lungs and your digestive tract. So, when you feel stressed, deep breathing literally massages your nervous system into relaxation.
Give it a try now:
Find a space you feel safe (your room, your cubicle, your office, etc.)
Keeping your mouth partly open, jaw relaxed, take a slow, deep belly breath in, feeling your chest rise, your belly rise and your ribcage expand.
Exhale all the air out through an open mouth, jaw relaxed.
Repeat this 8-10 more times with your eyes closed.
When you open your eyes, enjoy the little or large load off your shoulders.
Move your body.
Dance like no one is watching, run like the wind, stretch it out, pump some iron – do whatever cliché it takes to release the endorphins trapped in your tense body! The effects of the endorphins released by movement improves mood and reduces stress, anxiety and depression by increasing endogenous opioid levels and engaging the mesolimbic reward pathway,. Movement has even been found to decrease pain, and as pain is a physical stressor, movement kills two birds with one stone!
In the end…
Back-to-school stress doesn’t have to rule your mood for the next few weeks. Employing these simple, natural ways of dealing with stress can decrease or even eliminate your stress, helping you stay calmer, enjoy life more and best of all, free of negative side-effects!
If stress and anxiety continue to impact your health negatively and you would like an alternative to prescription drugs, book an appointment now so we can work together to bring you back to the most resilient and balanced you, naturally.
 Korb, Alex, and Daniel J. Siegel. The upward spiral: using neuroscience to reverse the course of depression, one small change at a time. Strawberry Hills, NSW, ReadHowYouWant, 2016.
 Yeung, Robert R. “The acute effects of exercise on mood state.” Journal of Psychosomatic Research, vol. 40, no. 2, 1996, pp. 123–141., doi:10.1016/0022-3999(95)00554-4.
 Pitcher, Mark H., Bushnell, Catherine. “Modest amounts of voluntary exercise reduce pain- and stress-related outcomes in a rat model of persistent hind limb inflammation.” The Journal of Pain, vol. 18, no. 6, 2017, pp. 687-701