Back to School (or Work) Stress: How to Anticipate, Manage and Even Eliminate Feelings of Anxiety


Whether you are a student or a teacher or even if you’re simply returning to work after an extended break or absence (vacation, new job, medical leave, etc.), going back to an everyday school or work routine after time off can be difficult. Returning to work or school after any hiatus (sometimes even after a regular 2 day weekend!) can often bring about feelings of worry, anxiety, overwhelm and even in some instances, dread. Getting in the right mindset and preparing your mind and body for change can help reduce stress and anxiety and can even help to make transitions smooth, positive and enjoyable.

As you look toward your new schedule, lifestyle, routine and responsibilities, the following tips may help to shift feelings of nervous anticipation or dread, to feelings of calm, peace and preparedness:

Sunday Shift

Making small adjustments to your Sunday routine can help you to get your week (or new venture) off on the right foot. We call this a Sunday Shift. Sundays don’t have to be a complete bust (AKA boring, isolated, full of work or chores, etc.) in order to be productive and effective in easing your work/school related stress and anxiety, however making sure to complete at least 2 tasks (small or large) each Sunday will minimize your “to-dos” during the week, which will, in turn, reduce feelings of anxiety and overwhelm. Spend time relaxing, sleeping in, engaging in self-care rituals and/or enjoying time with friends on Sundays but be sure to also make time to prepare yourself for the week ahead by planning outfits, doing laundry, prepping meals, etc.

Ease Into It

Ease into your new routine and responsibilities by slowly re-adjusting your sleep habits now. Begin by shifting your bedtime routine and winding down earlier each night so that you can wake up slightly earlier every day. Building these new habits and routines before you go back to school or work can help you to feel more focused, less anxious/stressed and more balanced right from the start. You can find more tools on getting better, more restful sleep here.

Freshen Up

When embarking on a new venture (or even when returning to something after some time away), it is important to do so with a “clean slate.” Our living space has a tremendous impact on our physical health and mental wellbeing. For many people, an outer sense of order and control contributes to an inner calm and because we spend a great deal of time in our rooms, our homes, our cars and our offices, when things are cluttered and chaotic, we often internalize those feelings of disorganization and dysregulation in our mind and our body. Starting your transition with clean, fresh and organized spaces (AKA, purging, cleaning, cleansing and decluttering all the spaces you spend your precious time) will help to keep you calm and at peace as you begin to transition into your new routine.

Shop (Yes, Shop!)

Treat yourself to a few new clothing items or accessories to get you excited about your new transition or venture. Research shows that people experience “mental changes” that motivate specific behaviors and attitudes when they wear certain items of clothing. The idea that clothing can have an impact on psychological processes like motivation, emotional state, self-perception and interpersonal interactions is a phenomenon is known as “enclothed cognition” …So there you have it-Scientific evidence that you need that new pair of jeans.

Adjust and Maintain New Routines

Beginning (or restarting) a new demanding daily routine can throw you off of you health and wellness game. As your schedule shifts, you’ll likely have less time to fit in a good workout (and other important things like time with friends, meal prepping, cooking, resting, etc). Prior to starting your new lifestyle, begin to carve out specific (and less flexible times that happen to align with your new availability) for hitting the gym. Start your new workout routine strong by sticking with your plan as consistently as possible. While its important to always listen to your body (and rest when needed), if you’re feeling particularly tired on a specific day, consider a low impact or even restorative workout like yin yoga or pilates rather than skipping your workout/self-care routine all together.

Establish and Stick to Boundaries

As you begin your new routine, make sure to establish clear boundaries (for yourself, for your employer/professors and for your peers). Taking time for yourself during your work or school day can influence you ability to maintain focus and to produce quality work. And doing so from the start can help you to establish and maintain a healthy work/life balance, will keep others from questioning any changes in behavior, dedication or efforts and will keep you from getting stuck in a miserable “no breaks, lunch at your desk” kind of rut. Set aside a few moments at various points throughout your day to take a break, socialize with others, meditate, eat a healthy meal, disconnect, enjoy a coffee or a tea, etc.

Mind Your Mindset

Change and transition can be scary. When experiencing a transition, it can difficult to imagine what’s to come and how you’ll cope-Even when the next phase is predetermined, chosen or certain, change can be difficult. Managing your mindset (or thinking patterns) can help to make any life transition, lifestyle shift or change more manageable. Rather than imagining and focusing on the challenges change might bring, think of ways this new shift/transition can be beneficial for you. Visualize the various ways this particular change can provide new opportunities, growth, fulfilling social connections or even a much needed adjustment in routine or structure. Visualization is a powerful strategy for increasing motivation and confidence as well as for achieving goals and managing challenges and difficult transitions.

To practice visualization:

Begin by establishing a goal related to your transition, change or new venture. Then, picture your future self after having accomplished that goal. Imagine; Who are you with? Where are you? What are you doing? What does the space feel like? What does it look like? How does it smell? How do you feel? What are you wearing? What do you look like? What do you hear? What are you saying and to whom?

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