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How to De-Stress Back to School Season

It’s a back-to-school season unlike any other — with reopening plans across schools and college campuses ranging from hybrid models to fully remote, it seems the only thing that’s certain across the board is, well… uncertainty itself. And while we’re six months into the “new normal,” for many of us, it all still seems to feel a lot more new than normal.

If you're a longtime reader of the Mosaic blog, you probably know me as a frequent contributor here — but you may not know that I'm also a first-grade teacher! This year, I’m seeing my own school thrown into the new reality that is online learning. While every school year brings with it a new batch of lessons learned as teachers, this school year is unmatched in its level of unfamiliarity and stress. This year more than ever, we are learning right alongside our students, as we reimagine how to do our jobs in ways we never thought we’d have to. Adapt lesson plans for an online setting? Build community through a computer screen? Teach social skills and sharing without in-person interaction? The start of a new school year is always hectic, but the challenges of this year add a new dimension of stress that’s difficult to ignore — and it’s important that we don’t.

Stress has real effects on your body, mood, and behavior, and can even contribute to more serious health problems, like high blood pressure and heart disease. Whether your transition into this fall season feels relatively calm, or you’re adjusting to some bigger changes (or maybe somewhere in between the two), taking proactive steps to manage your stress is an essential element of self-care. Here are 6 ways you can join me to stay grounded and de-stress this fall.

1. Plan meals ahead of time

Eating well is often the first thing to go in a time crunch. Already this year, I’ve guzzled down my morning coffee and jumped right into work, only to reemerge a little after lunchtime feeling drained and lightheaded with the realization that I haven’t had an actual meal yet — and feeling like there’s no time to spare to make something healthy. While it can definitely feel more efficient to work through breakfast or lunch, your body needs the energy and fuel from real, good food to perform at its best. Research shows it improves your decision making skills and increase productivity.

But you’re more prone to make unhealthy choices the hungrier you are, and without planning ahead, you may find yourself relegated to grabbing something that’s quick, but highly processed and unhealthy — so try to make it as easy as possible for yourself to eat well. Use the weekend to prep meals and freeze for later in the week. Or, if the Sunday scaries get a little too scary and you’re not able to cook ahead of time for the week, keep a stock of healthy, frozen meals in the freezer. Mosaic’s ready-to-eat meals are packed with plant power, and no preservatives ever, so It’s a no-cook, no-prep, and super healthy way to stay fueled even on the busiest of days. Whether you’re working from home or grabbing it to go, your stress levels (and stomach) will thank you for having one less thing to think about.

2. Prioritize yourself

When you’re stretched thin in too many directions, your own needs tend to fall farther down the totem pole. I remember in my first year of teaching, our school principal had all the new teachers do a simple activity: Write down a non-negotiable self-care need, and schedule it into our calendar. For some, it was a weekly yoga class; for others, leaving work by 5 every Thursday for date night with their partner; for me, it was to get at least 7 hours of sleep a night. Of course, as the year got busier, it became more difficult (and at times impossible) to prioritize the needs we’d outlined for ourselves. But the initial commitments we made helped us stay accountable and intermittently evaluate when adjustments were needed — whether it meant using prep periods more productively in order to leave earlier, or saying no when our plates were too full, it required conscious effort to keep ourselves a priority.

No matter what field you work in, do the same for yourself. Identify what your non-negotiable is: what do you need regularly to feel at peace? Then make it happen — the only person who can give you what you need is you!

3. Unplug

If you’re working from home, where you sleep is now where you work, and built-in boundaries like the commute to and from work cease to exist now for many of us — so it’s that much more important to create your own forms of separation between personal life and work life.

For me, the work day feels like it starts as soon as my alarm goes off, largely due to the fact that my “classroom” is now a mere 20 feet away. But I’m guilty of playing into it, checking my email before I’ve even gotten out of bed — while this used to be a way to get a head start on the day, with my current 30-second commute, I have to be much more intentional about the time I spend on work, and hold the parts of the day for myself much more sacredly. Otherwise, it all bleeds together and feels like one continuous day of work from day’s start to end.

If you have similar boundary issues, consciously avoid opening work emails until you’re sitting at your desk, and allow yourself the morning to look at only ‘you-centered’ content: reading up on the news, answering texts, and checking social media. Once you’re in work mode, set your phone to “Do Not Disturb” to clearly delineate the start of the work day. Additionally, take a look through your notifications settings and turn off notifications for any non-essential apps on your phone. Limiting the number of updates you get throughout the day can help your mind feel calmer and more focused.

4. Meditate

Meditation touts many mental health benefits and is shown to help clear your mind and start the day with a sense of calm and focus. But the idea of meditating can sound intimidating to a lot of people (myself included). But meditation comes in many different forms, and can be as simple as taking mindful breaths or doing a body scan. Guided meditation videos online are also a great way to try out meditation without the pressure of feeling like “Am I doing this right?”

5. Spend time outside

Going out for some “fresh air” may sound like a tired euphemism, but researchers have actually found that spending 120 minutes outside a week can improve your health and well-being. That equates to about 20 minutes a day. Whether you go for a walk or just sit outside, spending time in nature can be a huge mood-booster and help clear your mind. While more tranquil settings like oceans and mountains are correlated with higher benefits, that’s not realistic for most people, including me — but the park, in your backyard, or a quiet street all provide a nice change of scenery from the four walls of your home or office, and can provide you both the physical and mental space you need to decompress.

6. Schedule time to do nothing

It can feel tempting after a long work week to fill the weekend or evening with lots of fun plans. But if you’re already feeling stressed, even the things that are supposed to bring you joy can end up feeling overwhelming. Be cognizant of how much of your time you’re spending in situations where you may overextend yourself. When you’re constantly on the go, those feelings may not catch up with you until you already feel drained, so be proactive and check in with yourself often before making or saying yes to plans. Normalize saying no, and be proud of yourself for doing so! We often try to find excuses for declining events, but it’s totally okay, and necessary, to not always be doing something. You can only be your best self for others when you feel charged and full.

With my classes, I begin the start of every new school year by asking my students: what is your hope and dream? We spend the week carefully considering this question, exploring what’s important to each child and the goals they want to achieve that year. Similarly, my hope and dream for our readers at Mosaic is that even as adults, we stay reflective of our own needs, and pour into our health and well-being, so we can show up in the world as our best selves.

Wishing you all a wonderful, de-stressed fall!