5 Tips to Soothe Back-to-School Stress

Back-to-School Stress

As the start of the school year nears, parents and kids—many already struggling mentally from the recent years of disrupted routines—may feel greater stress and anxiety with this year’s back-to-school hustle.

Once again, there will be complex and changing COVID protocols to be followed in order to facilitate safe, in-person instruction for students of all ages. Although with vaccinations now available to young children, school officials are hopeful disruptions will be fewer and easier to manage. However, the vaccination issue itself is fraught with its own stresses, tension, anxiety, and fears.

To reduce stress and prepare for the school year schedule, the brain health and mental health experts at Amen Clinics recommend adding regulating routines back into your child’s day at least a couple weeks before school begins. Click To Tweet

Yet, the culmination of COVID-related challenges, including disruptions to normal school and work routines, financial hardships, health challenges, and losses have taken a toll on teachers, kids, and parents alike. While some kids look forward to in-person instruction, others thrived with remote learning, making for a mixed bag of emotions with the return to school.

If that weren’t enough, now skyrocketing inflation adds another level of stress on parents struggling to afford the expense of back-to-school clothing, school supplies, and after-school care for those that work.

With these numerous challenges, it’s more important than ever for parents and kids to find effective ways to find resilience and refuge. Here are tips, based on the advice of the brain health and mental health experts at Amen Clinics as well as scientific research to help you and your family navigate this year’s back-to-school hustle with less stress.

5 TIPS TO SOOTHE BACK-TO-SCHOOL STRESS

1. Resume a Routine

When kids are out of school for the summer, routines often take a vacation too. To reduce stress and prepare for the school year schedule, add regulating routines back into your child’s day at least a couple of weeks before school begins.

If your kids are without a bedtime, set one that can be maintained when school starts. It will give them the opportunity to adjust and help them get much-needed sleep, which benefits mood and immune system function. If they are sleeping in late, start waking them close to the time they’ll need to get up for school and be consistent. If they’ve been off with scheduled meals, begin sticking to regular meal times for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Give them a regular chore to do, and perhaps add a couple of fun rituals into the evening or weekend routine that can continue after school starts.

It is also recommended to schedule a couple of play dates or activities with one of your child’s peers that they know well during the first few weeks of school. Spending time with peers can be very beneficial psychologically and help to reduce stress during transitional or high-stress periods.

Following a routine can help reduce stress and anxiety levels while promoting resilience. (That applies to parents, too!) A 2021 study conducted during the early phase of the COVID pandemic showed that families who had routines enjoyed greater well-being and resilience than those who did not.

2. Get Informed and Be Prepared for School

Gathering information and making preparations can help to quell the fear of the unknown that comes with a new school year, especially one amidst an ongoing pandemic. For example, find out as soon as possible about school COVID protocols so that you can prepare by having test kits, masks, or plans should remote learning return due to surges. Help reduce your child’s stress by sharing with them in a simple way so they can understand what COVID safety will look like for them. If you have a teen, talk to them about it and let them know your plan.

Of course, there are ways to mitigate back-to-school jitters. If your child is attending a new school, review the drop-off routine by going to the school and doing a run-through. Walk on the campus, if it is open. Review school supplies lists with your children and take inventory of what you have to provide a clear idea of what you’ll need.

If inflation has you worried about how to best afford back-to-school clothing and supplies, take time to research the best deals for school supplies online or find out where you can get donated school supplies. If you are concerned about affording meals at school, find out the current policy at your child’s school. While free school meals may be limited to low-income families, there’s a program called the “Community Eligibility Provision” that may make free meals available to all students.

3. Talk to Your Kids About Going Back to School

Decades of clinical practice in child and adult psychiatry at Amen Clinics show that talking about stressful situations with a trusted adult can help kids and teens. Talking allows them to put things in perspective and find solutions.

One way to encourage your child to talk is to spend time with them engaged in activities that are naturally conducive to talking. For example, with a younger child, bath time and bedtime provide a great window to talk. If you read to your child at night, you might even want to select a back-to-school-themed book. The drive home from school can sometimes be a great place to listen. If you are quiet, kids often open up. If you have an older teen, try an activity together. Go see a movie, show them how to fix something in the garage, or cook a meal together.

Ask your child open-ended questions (as opposed to yes/no questions) and be quiet. Really listen. They may have very different concerns than you think. Let them know it’s OK to feel anxious and stressed. Help them to find their own solutions, but be careful not to rush in to “fix it.” Don’t forget that you need to talk as well. Talk to your partner or a trusted friend. And if you or your children are particularly burdened by anxiety, depression, trouble with focus (such as with ADD/ADHD), aggression, or other issues, reach out to a mental health professional for help.

4. Don’t Forget to Take Care of Yourself

You are the leader of your family and set an example for your children. Make your health and well-being a priority during this stressful transitional time. It may mean saying “no” to plans and requests in order to conserve your energy.

Ensure the basics: getting 7-9 hours of restful sleep; consuming a brain healthy diet of lean protein, colorful fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, whole grains—and very little refined carbohydrates, sugar, and alcohol; and getting plenty of exercise and stress-reducing activities like yoga, meditation, and spending time engaged in things you enjoy. These basic tenets of health are also about routine and self-regulation. They will help to keep you steady amidst a stormy sea.

However, do not get down on yourself if you struggle with your self-care during this time. Do what you can. Even just one healthy action makes a difference. If practicing basic self-care is too challenging or you are struggling with depression or a substance abuse problem, seek help from a mental health professional.

5. Exercise in Nature and Enjoy Life

Numerous studies show that spending time in nature and exercise help to reduce stress for kids and adults. A Japanese study followed 420 subjects in 35 different forests throughout Japan to examine the health effects of nature. The results were extraordinary: Stress hormones, blood pressure, and heart rates decreased.

Exercise reduces tension and promotes the release of feel-good brain chemicals that elevate mood and support calm. Regular exercise may help you and your kids to sleep better, too!

Take your kids to the park, the beach, a pool, or the backyard, and play! Enjoy life together. Keep it really simple. Even a half-hour or 15 minutes can make a difference. In fact, this is an excellent activity to build into your “routine” and one that continues after school begins.

Stress, anxiety, and mental health issues can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, clinical evaluations, and therapy for adults, teens, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.

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