According to the Google misery index, search terms like “depression” “stress” and “anxiety” start to peak in the fall — and most of us find autumn even more stressful than the holidays. Nearly 60% of parents say that the month they spend getting their kids back-to-school ready is the most anxious time of the year, according to a survey from Herbalife Nutrition. And childfree folks also feel plenty of pressure this time of year, as bosses, clients and colleagues head back from vacation and hop back onto email with a vengeance.
“We all went to school and were brought up with the idea that September means change,” says Alyssa Gelbard, founder and president of Point Road Group, a personal branding and consulting firm. Summer tends to move at a slower pace, but come September, clients and customers have a tendency to complain, “I should have done this over the summer,” which leads to a sense of urgency to get things done.
If you’re feeling the effects of #Stresstember this year, here’s how you can keep your cool.
“Getting organized gives me a sense of peace,” says Natalie Friedman, Dean of Studies and Director of Family Engagement at Barnard College, and mother of two. Friedman, who helps families and students transition to starting college at Barnard, explains that all forms of planning ahead — including creating a family calendar, setting your monthly (or quarterly) budget, stocking up on supplies and meal planning, help mitigate stress. Also, when you can knock out things like budgeting and meal planning, you’re also on a path to saving money, which can instantly help reduce any financial stress you might be facing.
“Checklists have been game-changers for my families,” says parenting coach Brandi Davis, who says that checklists of daytime and morning routines for kids and parents help set expectations and get everyone accustomed to their new schedules.
Most Important Takeaway: Take the time to get organized in the areas of your life that create the most tension. (Hint: Money is the biggest stressor in most people’s lives, so prioritize the organization of your financial life.)
Find Your Fun
There’s still time to savor summer, even with school starting and returning to work, explains Laura Vanderkam, time management and productivity expert. Just because Labor Day has passed doesn’t mean your favorite getaway is off limits. “You could still go to the beach or an outdoor concert,” she says. With some planning, everyone can have something they’re looking forward to doing as soon as they hop off the school bus. Plus, don’t forget that a beach getaway one weekend in October should be much more affordable than it was just a few weeks ago, since the Labor Day usually marks the start of the “off season.”
Most Important Takeaway: Keep that summer vibe alive and plan something that will make you smile.
“Stress levels skyrocket with transitions, like those that come in September,” says therapist Allison Weliky. “Self-care is especially important at this time of year when people are getting used to new routines.” When you take a look at your calendar, you might not feel like there’s even a minute available to take care of yourself, but you don’t have to take a full day at the spa to feel the benefits of relaxation. Just a few minutes of quiet in the morning or evening, or sneaking into a yoga class on your lunch break can help.
Most Important Takeaway: Any time you spend decompressing helps you to be a happier, calmer human for yourself, you family, friends, and work colleagues. They will thank you for taking care of yourself!
Lighten Your Load
“Saying ‘no’ is a really important way to ease September stress,” says Davis. One of the main contributors to September stress is the onslaught of requests to participate in activities related to school, work, family or friends. “Sometimes you have to say, ‘You know what, sorry, no, I can’t do that,” explains Davis.
Most Important Takeaway: Know when to say “no.” It is a complete sentence.
Find Peace In Prioritization
When is the last time you sat down, put pen to paper, and decided exactly which activities, projects and friends were a priority for you? Until you do this, you won’t know which tasks could potentially be handled by someone else, or perhaps even knocked off your calendar entirely. Writing down your tasks can help you determine opportunities to streamline things — perhaps you can share carpool with other parents, suggests Davis. Or, maybe you decide to spend money on a cleaning or laundry service to free up time.
Most Important Takeaway: Align your time and money with what matters the most to you, to ensure you have the emotional and financial space to take care of yourself.
Summing Up September
“Part of the September craziness is self-reinforcing,” says Vanderkam. “People talk about it being a big deal, and so it becomes a source of stress. But it doesn’t have to be.”
In the end, perhaps it’s a good thing that September is a little like a Brazilian waxing — I know it will be quick and come with some pain, but that I’ll definitely enjoy the smoothness left in its wake.
Besides, before you know it, I’ll be complaining about December holiday stress, and this month will be but a distant memory.
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