5 simple activities to Face the Back to School/Work Stress with Ease

I love summer. I feel like I can breathe more fully and time seems to move more slowly. Less commitments, more nature, more movement, more connection, more laughter and more fun. As the cooler weather moves in, I feel my anxiety rising…commitments, schedules, to do lists…my breath becomes shorter, my mind busier and more cluttered.

Are you noticing the same? Maybe you crave the comforts of routines and settling into schedules, but I wonder how many of us feel the impending dread settling on our shoulders, weighing us down with chaotic schedules and trying to catch up with our long to do lists. Have your sleep patterns changed this week? Are you eating on the run as you fill school supply lists and frantically schedule haircuts and dentist appointments that you meant to do all summer?

These 5 simple actions can help you and your family to manage the stress that can creep in this time of year. Try one or all 5 and begin to notice immediate results in the way you feel.

  1. Find “white space” in your schedule and mark time for yourself. Self care is the most important investment we can make in our own lives. When parents demonstrate good self care, it demonstrates that we care more about how we feel than what we haven’t accomplished. If we slide into bed at the end of the day haggered and dishevelled, feeling like we have been in a game of dodgeball all day, we may notice that we have sacrificed times for true connection with our families. Resist the temptation to “be busy” and embrace the space. Recognize that our kids will need time to adjust to the school routines and new expectations. They need downtime to integrate all of this. Play outside, allow time after school for kids to play and reset from the busy day. Be gentle with yourself, resist the temptation to fill your kid’s lunches with pinterest quality snacks and grab good healthy, whole foods that are easy to manage.
  2. Get in nature. Get outside and notice the smells, the change in temperature, notice the sky, the plants and the sounds. When we stop and notice our surroundings using all of our senses it brings us into the present moment. Anxiety increases when we are thinking ahead of the moment, worried about what is to come. When our feet are on the ground and we take in the sights and scents of nature, it is easy to put things in perspective. The grand scheme of nature reminds us not to sweat the small stuff as everything happens in time and most of the happenings around us are beyond our control.
  3. Breathe… notice your own breath without trying to change it at first. Then take a nice big breath, deep into your belly, hold for a second or two and let it all out. Try sighing and giving that release a sound. Two or three nice big releasing breaths can activate our parasympathetic nervous systems and release tension. Take a few breaths in the car before heading into school in the morning with your kids and know that this simple practice will help them to deal with new situations and the hallway busyness.
  4. Move your body. When we move and challenge our physical bodies, we increase our somatic awareness. This means that our awareness of our bodies increases. Why is this important? Well, have you ever come home at the end of a long day, irritable and tired and realize that you missed lunch? Did you run in the door feeling as if your bladder will explode? These are physical signs that your mind is cluttered and not connected with your physical body. When we increase our physical awareness we become “tuned into” our body’s signals of stress. We are better able pick up on the subtle cues of muscle tension, the change in our breath or how our minds start to race when stress comes in. And even better, as our awareness increases, we become better able to manage our stressors in the moment, to respond efficiently and prevent the exhaustion and burn out that can happen. Take your kids to the playground, wrestle, play tag, laugh and sweat together.
  5. Grasp gratitude. Before you get out of bed each morning, reflect on 3 things that you are looking forward to or are grateful for in the moment. This can be as simple as looking forward to your morning coffee, gratitude for a full tank of fuel in the car or the beautiful colors of fall slowly emerging. At the end of every day, spend the last few moments of the day being grateful for 3 things that happened that day. When our minds are grateful, we train ourselves to attract even more positive into our lives. I encourage families to practice this routine together during mealtimes or at the end of the day.

I will start… today I am grateful for the perfect cup of coffee in my butterfly cup that my teenage son delivered to my bedside, I am grateful for cooler weather that inspired me to write this morning and I am grateful for the new blossom on my morning glory that reminds me to open up and  to grow new ideas and inspiration for others.

Kari Lotzien is an occupational therapist, speaker and owner of To the Stars Occupational Therapy & Wellness Centre in Lacombe AB. She is passionate about building aware and connected communities where children will grow and flourish. Kari offers inspiring workshops and presentations for businesses, community groups, educators and families across North America.

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