Are you feeling depleted at the prospect of getting your kids back to school?
Want to do it differently this year, with more energy and flexibility? Most of my friends and patients find the back-to-school time to be stressful and overwhelming.
As a mom of two kids and a Harvard-trained doctor specializing in women’s vitality – that is, why vitality drops in women and what to do about it – I know the feeling. Out of necessity, I’ve become a scholar in how to optimize stressful transitions such as heading back to school from the halcyon days of summer.
Let me show you how to access your deeper reserves of energy and stay consistently vital during the back-to-school transition. You’ll find that the byproducts of taking care of yourself pro-actively will include more joy, happier kids, and less toxic stress. And most of all, better energy and vitality.
1. Become a calendar dominatrix. Start with your year-at-a-glance (I have the vertical one from Amazon on the back of my family room door) and add all the school events, dentist and orthodontics appointments, back to school nights, and play dates. Every year I forget to schedule off from work for the inevitable “Parent Coffee Break” and other gatherings that I dread but end up enjoying. We need to reconnect with our community when we head back from the summer because it helps us adjust back to the school year and fills our tank, particularly if you are an extrovert. Now go through your monthly calendar and transcribe all the juice from the year-at-a-glance. Next get your daily calendar filled in, with every detail especially for the hardest transition, the first week back at school. When you manage your calendar proactively, you feel empowered. When the external schedule manages you, you feel overwhelmed and stressed. Make the energizing choice to manage your schedule before the first day of school.
2. Add white space. Now that you have your schedule in place, pencil in the white space, sacred space for increasing your energy. Don’t frame this as selfish; hold it as essential to optimizing your energy. I suggest 1 to 2 hours twice per week so that you have room to add in another yoga class, to run to the stationary store or soccer shop to get the thing you forgot, or to claim time to read a favorite book. What’s stressful and depleting during back-to-school is when you have no time for these inevitable tasks.
3. Change bedtime now. Every year I’ve waited until the night before school begins to get into the new bedtime routine. Not any more. My kids don’t get enough sleep, there’s more sibling rivalry and conflict in the house, and yet 80% is preventable by moving my kids’ and my bedtime earlier at least one week in advance, maybe two weeks. Create a new habit before the last night before school.
4. Plan the lunchbox. Get new ideas for school lunches and plan the grocery lists now. Engage your kids in the process – for instance, are they interested in Meatless Mondays, and the benefit to the planet and their health? How about picking a few yummy lunchbox recipes from Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop site (http://goop.com/newsletter/81/en/)? Healthy food will help your kids prevent low blood sugar and attention problems, which will make parenting easier and help your energy.
5. Dump the junk. For many, myself included, summertime means ice cream and full glasses of chardonnay. Fatigue the first morning of school makes a big ol’ cup of regular coffee sound inescapable. Then you’re too juiced to sleep well. Change that up now, so that you don’t feel the brain fog of a sugar binge or the toxic effects of too much alcohol. Do you need a honeymoon before the start of the school year – to remove sugar, alcohol and gluten in advance of the first day of school? Cut back on caffeine and rely on true sources of energy rather than fake sources so that you feel your best. Caffeine raises cortisol, the main stress hormone, which thickens your waist, increases anxiety and disrupts sleep. True sources of energy include fresh seasonal vegetables chock full of antioxidants, enough protein (0.75 to 1.0 gram per pound of lean body mass), and the other self care such as exercise, yoga, meditation. Your body will reward you by clearing your mind.
6. Meditate. Before your eye skips to the next tip, let me say that meditation, in whatever form, makes me the patient mom I always wanted to be. Nothing fills my gas tank like focused attention and deep, diaphragmatic breathing. It has been shown to slow down aging by Novel Laureate Elizabeth Blackburn and reduce cortisol, the main stress hormone. It doesn’t have to be sitting rigidly on the floor in a corner of a shrine. It doesn’t have to be a 90-minute yoga class. It doesn’t have to be some complicated Sanskrit mantra. Here’s what my practice looks like: I wake up 20 minutes before my kids, make some tea, sit in the living room cross-legged and count my breaths. Or I write about what is on my mind. Or I enter “pigeon pose” with a forward fold for 5 minutes on one side, 5 minutes on the other side, and then rest in Sivasana for 5 minutes. Start your contemplative practice now – you’ll connect with a deep well that sustains your energy as you head back-to-school with your kids.
7. Smile. “Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile…but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy,” teaches Thich Nhat Hanh. Smiling relaxes your jaw, which is where many of us trap stress and tension in our bodies. Extra credit for belly laughs!
This year let’s not lie in puddle on the bedroom floor, depleted by the stress of heading back to school. Commit to doing it differently this year. Schedule in your white space, meditate in whatever form best suits you and smile – you’ll find your energy is consistently better this year.
Sara Gottfried, M.D. is a Harvard-trained, board-certified integrative physician, hormone expert, and yoga teacher in Berkeley, CA. Her medical practice is mostly virtual and features one-on-one and group wellness coaching for women internationally. She is the author of the forthcoming book, The Hormone Cure (Scribner/Simon and Schuster). Find her at her website, her facebook page, or even twitter – and learn more about how to stay vital and energized from summer into fall as we head back to school.