For most of us, this year's return to school doesn't look anything like what we remember from years past. Concerns about how the virus will unfold in the coming months, combined with uncertainty about how children will be able to learn this fall—whether in-person, full-time remote, hybrid learning or pandemic pod—is resulting in a steady state of stress for parents.
Is there any way for us as parents to reduce our anxieties about the start of this unprecedented new school year?
As a meditation teacher and a mom of five kids between the ages of 4 and 13, I found a number of mindfulness strategies especially helpful this past spring when I had to quickly transition to my new role of teacher and tutor in addition to working from home.
My pandemic anxiety "prescription" involves daily and weekly strategies to ward off stress, along with advice on what to do if you get triggered unexpectedly.
Daily techniques to manage back-to-school anxiety
To manage the overwhelming feelings brought on by the pandemic and the start of school, it is essential to establish a daily anxiety management routine to tap into your inner calm and institute a baseline level of serenity in your life.
Some daily calming techniques that I have found helpful for myself and my clients include mindfulness meditation, journaling and yoga. In particular, mindfulness meditation is a wonderful tool to keep you in the present moment so your mind doesn't spin into a negative spiral of possibilities.
If you've never meditated before, I recommend trying out a guided meditation app and starting off with just a few minutes each day. Whatever daily anxiety reducing activity you choose will set a peaceful tone for your day that will trickle out to the rest of your family.
Weekly strategies for back-to-school anxiety
When you are in a constant state of stress, it is also helpful to have something to look forward to in the near future to help curb your overwhelmed feelings. I like to set up an end of the week celebratory moment for both myself and for my family.
Setting a weekly celebration moment for family—as well as one just for yourself, mama—will help you cope with the challenges you face during the week, because you know you have something fun to do at the end of your week. My personal celebratory moments are self-care strategies, such as at-home facials, baths or alone time. For our end-of-week family celebrations, we make a plan to do something different from our daily at-home pandemic routine: a backyard movie, an online escape room or simply getting take-out from a new restaurant.
These weekly celebrations help remind us that even when times are tough, we can still take a moment to celebrate our life and our time together as a family.
Coping techniques for when you're in a triggered state
Has your child's school decided to return to on-site learning? Or maybe the hybrid format or homeschooling is adding pressure to your already full plate? No matter how much you try to avoid anxiety triggers, it's likely that something will pop up to send you into a negativity spiral.
When you find yourself riddled with anxiety, you can utilize breathing techniques and affirmations to offset a panicked state.
Breathing techniques help us switch from a state of stress—the "fight and flight" response—to the "rest and digest" state, via a slow and deep breathing pattern. One breathing technique to try during your next stress spiral is to inhale to a count of four seconds and exhale to a count of four seconds. Then make each subsequent inhale/exhale cycle one second longer and continue this pattern up to a count of eight seconds, if that's possible for you.
Another great strategy to try when you are in a triggered state is to utilize the power of affirmations. An affirmation is a simple phrase that you repeat to yourself that provides you with comfort, strength and support. Here are some great affirmations to use during this time of uncertainty:
I am safe.
I am healthy.
I am strong.
I am brave.
I can do this.
Repeat these affirmations to yourself when you suddenly get triggered and need to calm down fast.
The start of school—in whatever format—during a pandemic is a difficult endeavor for both our children and us as parents. But managing this unmanageable situation with some semblance of grace is possible if you arm yourself with stress-reduction strategies for daily, weekly and triggered moments of anxiety. This three-pronged approach can help you stay calm, even when everything feels like a struggle. And when you can achieve a state of calm, your family can, too.