It’s hard to say goodbye to summer. Heading back into the school routine can create more stress for everyone in the family. Busy schedules, academic pressure, and lack of sleep can raise anxiety levels. Furthermore, we have less time to relax and connect with each other.
With that in mind, here are some strategies to ease the transition back into the school year.
Build the family’s resilience and positivity. Resilience is our ability to bounce back from difficult events or emotions. The more resilient we are, the more we can handle the stress of the busy school year. Fortunately, there are ways to build our resilience, and one big way is by focusing on the positive.
Research has found that maintaining a three-to-one ratio of positive to negative emotions builds resilience. We can improve our ratio by learning to pay more attention to positive events. At the end of each day, share as a family about what went well for each of you.
Use the breath to stay calm. Breath awareness is one of the most effective and accessible tools for self-regulation and calming the nervous system. Breathing slowly, with the exhalation a bit longer than the inhalation, activates the parasympathetic nervous system (the “rest and digest” or “calm and connect” system). Therefore, the sympathetic nervous system (the “fight, flight or freeze” system) takes a step back.
Consciously focusing on our breath helps us navigate the tension that arises in the mind and body when life gets hard. Hence, the breath can be a powerful vehicle for carrying us through challenging emotions and situations—whether it’s a math test or a deadline at work.
Eat healthy meals together. The busy school-year schedule can keep the family apart. Make a point of eating together at least one or two nights during the week. Moreover, turn off all devices while you’re eating, so you can focus on the food and each other. Meals are a great time to connect and for each family member to share what’s been going on in their day and their week.
What you eat is also important. Healthy food choices can help the whole family maintain energy and well-being. And what you don’t eat matters, especially when it comes to sugar. Scientists now point to the consumption of sugar as one of the biggest threats to human health—and that includes mental health. Sugar and sugar additives have been linked to depression, addictive behavior, anxiety, memory loss, and cognitive ability.
Communicate. In the hustle and bustle of the school year, real communication can fall by the wayside. It’s hard enough to keep each other updated on the logistics, not to mention having meaningful conversations.
However, it’s vital for parents to find time to talk with their kids. An ongoing, meaningful connection between kids and parents is one of the most powerful factors in supporting their healthy development and positive outlook.
Get enough Zs. For most adolescents, nine hours of sleep is ideal, but very few of them are actually managing that. One study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control showed that less than nine percent of teens get enough, and the amount of rest they get decreases as they progress through high school. Sleep is essential for both physical and mental health.
To enhance sleep duration and quality, families can try turning off computers, TVs, and phones at least an hour before bed each night to help their brains wind down and get ready for rest. Instead of using technology, try doing peaceful activities, such as reading, listening to quiet music, writing in a journal, or meditating. On weekends, teens should wake no more than two hours later than the time when they normally get up on weekdays. Snoozing until noon and then staying up late will throw off a teen’s sleeping schedule for the rest of the week.
Reframe stress. There’s a difference between stress and distress. Can we look at the stress of the school year in a new, more positive way—as an opportunity for growth and accomplishment? A Harvard study found that people who viewed stress as a motivation for better performance did better on tests and managed their stress better than those who tried to ignore their anxiety.
However, it’s essential to take “stress breaks”—times when you consciously relax and release tension throughout the day. The whole family can take a stress break together, and each individual family member can come up with their own ways to de-stress. For example, take a mindful walk, noticing the colors, the smells, the sounds, and how the air and sun feel on your skin; keep small bottles of your favorite scents nearby for aromatherapy breaks; and get up from your desk once in a while to dance to a song you love.
Here’s to staying in a summer vacation state of mind!