After weeks of kids, pool parties and barbecues, there's a seismic mood shift in autumn, as our engines rev up for going back to school and work. Tension builds, lists are started and suddenly there's just not enough time, says Cindi Williams, a registered counsellor based in Vancouver. "People switch from this organic, creative time to one where time is mandated and there are too many things going on."
But it doesn't have to be like that. This year, change the dynamic as you flip open your calendar to make September a season of fresh energy, new beginnings and (call us crazy) even fun. Check out these ideas to ease your stress this month.
Don't go cold turkey
Maybe you love dining alfresco. Perhaps it's outdoor music festivals or enjoying a morning cup of tea while you read the newspaper. As autumn approaches, make sure you continue a few summertime activities. Plan a weekend barbecue while the September sun still shines, or grab some film festival tickets. And make sure you still sip your tea – scientists at University College London in England found that people's stress levels dropped by an average of 47 per cent when they drank black tea. The risk of heart attack (due to blood platelet activation) was also lower.
Start by going to bed
Kids may love watching late-night movies then sleeping till noon, but it's not conducive to 9 a.m. classes. "Getting to bed on time is important, [but] the most critical anchor is getting them up at a specific time," says Dr. Helen Driver, head of Kingston General Hospital's Sleep Disorders Laboratory in Kingston, Ont. Make it easier by shifting bedtime back 15 minutes a night until everyone's back on track.
Stock up – early!
Don't wait until Labour Day to buy school supplies, says Candace Derickx, co-owner of Best Tools for Schools, an Ottawa-based company that takes orders, then delivers supplies directly to your child's school on the first day. "Shop early," she says. "And don't be fooled by sale prices – they're loss leaders to get you into the store. Stick to your list."
Page 1 of 3 – Learn which foods nutritionist Dr. Joey Shulman recommends eating to fight stress on page 2.Eat stress-free
As levels of the hormone cortisol rise in response to stress ("Mom, I need money/help/something else for school"), your body releases mood stabilizers such as serotonin. Yet chronic stress can deplete serotonin, creating cravings, says Dr. Joey Shulman, a Toronto diet expert and author of Healthy Sin Foods (Viking, 2009). "Keeping your blood sugar on track is key to reducing stress," says Shulman. Good choices include egg whites, chicken, turkey, cold-water fish, fruit, brown rice and quinoa.
Back to meal planning
Plan a few weekly menus, then hit the grocery store and stock up – but again, keep to your list. "It keeps expenses down and gets you organized," says Derickx. Include a few freezer-friendly meals, such as chili, soup and stew, that can be reheated easily on nights when the kids have after-school activities, your kids' friends join you at the last minute, or you get stuck in traffic.
What's for lunch?
Making school lunches and snacks can be fraught with stress. Keep things simple by dedicating a fridge drawer to lunch items such as cut-up veggies, dip, cheese and fruit. Individually wrap and freeze baked goods, such as mini muffins. And take advantage of your school's hot lunch days, says Derickx. They're usually school fund-raisers, and are a nice break for you.
Fall spring cleaning
September is a good time to spring-clean your closet. "Everyone has two wardrobes, so do a bit of thinking about what you need to have handy for the cooler weather," says Joyce Odidison, a life coach based in Winnipeg. Avoid the scramble for a tuque and mitts on the first cold day by washing everything ahead of time, and placing it within easy reach. Tip: Put together a few go-to outfits for each family member for those mornings when everyone sleeps in!
Eek – just too many activities!
Swimming, football, gymnastics: it's easy to over-schedule kids. Start the season by letting your child choose one or two activities and then, if he (and you!) can handle the schedule, consider others. "If your kids are involved in too much, they'll be frazzled. Let them choose what they like and put the effort into that," says Fiona McQuarrie, a professor of organizational studies at the University of the Fraser Valley in Abbotsford, B.C.
Page 2 of 3 – Discover stress-zapping Apps for your iPhone or BlackBerry on page 3.
The kids are all right, how about you?
It's the second week of September and everyone's on track, right? If not, start breathing deeply. Researchers at the U.S. National Institutes of Health have found that breathing slowly for a few minutes each day can reduce blood pressure. Think about taking a meditation or yoga class. "Or try a new activity – anything that makes you feel different or better offers stress relief," says McQuarrie. She did: At age 35, she took up competitive adult figure skating. Now 51, she recently placed seventh in the national adult figure-skating championships.
What? Throw a party?
Kick off the year in a positive way by hosting a simple get-together. Do it early in the month, for example, after work on the first Friday back, so you can meet other parents with kids and exchange phone numbers for playdates and backup child care. Derickx invites her daughters' classmates for a S'mores the Merrier start-of-school do. "It's easy and a good opportunity for everyone to get to know each other," she says.
There's an App for that?
A little tech support, such as the Class Calendar App for iPhone, a smartphone application that customizes reminders about classes and assignment deadlines, can help you to coordinate things such as calendars and shared parenting. Blackberry's calendar application can interface with your desktop agenda, making scheduling a snap. And many school boards offer downloadable calendars.
You can also set up Microsoft Excel spreadsheets on a shared network drive that your kids can update. And, as holidays draw to a close, prepare for getting back to work by scanning your email. "You want it to be gradual," says Joyce Odidison, a life coach in Winnipeg. "Rather than responding to email in the evening, do it in the morning. Just don't overdo it and make it so annoying that your family wishes you'd go back to work."
Page 3 of 3