It’s the beginning of September and time to go back to school. My daughter, Ella, is starting sixth grade this year and is enormously excited to be at the middle school with more independence. I can see from Facebook posts that many of you are also in back-to-school mode. As exhilarating as it can be, having enjoyed the long summer break, it can also be a bit of a shock to make the transition back to studies.
Whether starting first grade or moving up to the next year of college, starting a school schedule is a busy time of year for students, as well as for parents and teachers. In today’s post we will look at how this transition can affect you (students, parents, and teachers) and I will give you some tips on how to make it easier. (If you are a parent, perhaps you’d like to share this article with your child.)
Stress of School
Going to school is busy and stressful because there is lots to do and you have to get to class (perhaps for the first time) at a particular time. It requires careful planning, careful timing, and preparation. To make it easier it helps to plan—and you’ll probably have to wake up earlier in order to get everything ready to go on time. Then, in order to get to school on time, you’ll need to catch the bus at the right time (in the right place), or you’ll need to plan your route if you’re driving or walking.
Finally, by the end of the day, you’ll likely have a list of things that need to be done by the next day (paperwork and signatures), and a number of dates and deadlines to add to your calendar. All of this can be quite overwhelming and stressful. It’s no wonder that students are often used in research about stress! (Click here to see examples of studies about stress in students)
For example, research tells us that it is when we are most stressed that we become susceptible to illnesses, including colds, flus, and other infections. So even though this is not such a convenient time to get sick, back to school is one of the most common times for you to come down with a cold. Click here for my natural medicine cabinet, for children and adults, to help you prevent colds and recover quickly.
Headaches, stomach aches, anxiety, sleep issues, and rashes are all also more likely when you’re not feeling prepared for all that back to school brings.
Increasing your awareness of how your body reacts under stress, especially at this time of year, is a great way to know if it needs more support and whether the stress is getting to you.
Notice, does just the thought of going back to school feel exciting yet new and different? Are you feeling tense just thinking of everything you’ll need to do? Have you gotten a cold in years past at about this time of year? What else do you notice in your body as you think of going back to school?
Now that you have a sense of how you are affected by the stress of school, let’s talk through what you can do about it. The more you can plan ahead and give your body what it needs to get through this busy time, the better.
Back to School Tips
Here are my four Back to School tips that will help you through the process, and make it less likely you’ll be back home sick before you’ve even really got going again. These are tips that I have learned make a difference for Ella as well as for me, as a parent, and for teachers too.
Tip 1: Plan what to eat
There are going to be plenty of other things to think about so to do what you can in advance will help you later. For example, you could plan what you are going to eat for the week and go grocery shopping on the weekend. Buy what you’ll need for breakfast (find healthy and interesting breakfast ideas here), lunch, dinner and snacks. Protein is a very important for keeping your focus and energy up throughout the day so make sure you include plenty of it in your shopping list – examples include nuts, seeds, fish, chicken, and turkey. You will also need plenty of fruit and vegetables to choose from so make sure you stock up on them too. I like to keep berries and kale (organic of course) in the freezer so it stays fresh and ready to eat at any time.
Think Protein! Whether that is a protein shake, seeds and nuts (nuts are reserved for home since nuts are prohibited in many classrooms); turkey, chicken, or beef (as jerky, frozen sausages you can heat up quickly, or deli sliced); fish or eggs.
Each day you’ll also want to think ahead about what you’ll need to keep you going through the day until your next meal so make sure to pack a lunch, as well as a snack, and perhaps another small meal (depending on how long your day will be) to keep you going until you get home. It can help to bring food for lunch if you’re not sure what will be available and if you want to make sure you have gluten and dairy free options. Know that if it’s been four hours since you last ate, that you need something to keep you going until your next meal. Here’s a great website with some creative ideas for lunch boxes that could work for children and adults.
Tip 2: Get plenty of rest
We all need to sleep to allow our bodies time to recover, tissue to heal, and immune system to function. Children (up to about age 12) need at least 10 hours of sleep to support healthy growth. Teens and adults need 7.5 to nine hours of sleep each night.
To make sure you are well rested, count backwards from the time you need to wake up in order to determine when you need to go to bed to ensure you are getting enough hours of sleep. Make sure you are sleeping in a dark room, without stimulation (TV, computer, cell phone etc), and with a high quality air filter (especially if you have allergies). I have more sleep tips for you here.
Tip 3: Take a multivitamin, omega-3 fats and a probiotic daily*
While we aim to get as many nutrients as we can from our food, it can be helpful and necessary to add in nutrients in pill, powder or liquid form, especially when you are stressed and busy. I refer to these vitamin and herbal supplements as the Essentials – for both children and adults – because they give your body the essential nutrients and bacteria it needs in order to stay well and function optimally.
Multivitamin: A high-quality multivitamin contains the nutrients that every cell in your body needs to function, for bones to be healthy, and for your liver to do its job to detoxify. Whether chewable, powder or capsule form, look for a multi that contains active B vitamins (look for the word “methyl”) as well as antioxidants and minerals. Find an example here.
Omega 3 fats: Research indicates that omega-3 fats (from fish and algae) improve brain function, mood, immunity, and prevent heart disease and cancer. Be sure to choose a brand that ensures that the fats are free of toxins. Nordic Naturals, for example, if often found in stores and meets the criteria for high-quality fish oil. We have the professional line from Nordic Naturals available in my office and online store.
Probiotics: Research demonstrates that probiotics are important for students’ wellness. They support not only the health of your digestion, but also your immune system and metabolism, as well as nutrient production in your digestive tract. Read more about probiotics here.
I have created an Adult Essentials Package so you can get the products I recommend together and at a discount. I’m working on a package for children, so let me know if you’d like us to send it to you.
Tip 4: Create a routine
A routine is important because then you’ll be more likely to be able to take care of what needs to be done in a less stressful way, as well as to include time for you and for stress recovery. Having a routine can take the guess work out of it and reduce racing around in a panic, forgetting things and all those other things that are so stressful.
Time to take care of you includes time to eat, study, prepare for next day, clean and laundry (if needed), exercise, and stress remedies (connect with self, others, enjoy nature, give your brain a break and experience emotion). Follow this link to download and print a one-page picture of the 5 stress remedies to use as a reminder.
How to create a routine: Once you have the start time for your day, with travel time built in, plus time to get ready and to eat before you head out, then you’ll be able to know what time you need to wake up, and from that information, when you need to go to bed the night before. Now just figure out how much time you’ll have from the time you arrive home, plus any additional activities and time to eat, to the time you need to go to bed. This will be your “you time.”
You can use this “You-Time” Equation: Time to bed – Time home from school and activities = Hours to take care of you
You may need to prioritize what gets done during your “take care of you” time and plan extra time on other days to catch up.
Best wishes to you with back to school
Children, parents, and teachers all have an important goal: learning. I’m hoping that these back to school tips will help you accomplish that goal and feel your best doing it.
On pages 203 to 211 of my book, The Stress Remedy, there is a 21-day meal plan and delicious recipes that will help you start the new school year with food you know matches your health goals, Join me for my next article by subscribing to my blog here or by signing up to receive articles and tips from me in your inbox.
Best to you as you start back to school!
4th Sept 2014
* Please keep in mind that any and all supplements—nutrients, herbs, enzymes, or other—should be used with caution. My recommendation is that you seek the care of a naturopathic doctor (with a doctorate degree from a federally-accredited program) and that you have a primary care physician or practitioner whom you can contact to help you with individual dosing and protocols. If you ever experience negative symptoms after taking a product, stop taking it immediately and contact your doctor right away.