Finding Peace in the Chaos of Back-to-School


As summer winds down and we ready ourselves for back-to-school season, whether ourselves or our children, stress often times grabs hold, sometimes long before we even enter the classroom.

Lists of things to do, things to buy, anxieties over social and academic pressures… It all can feel quite overwhelming.

As Einstein brilliantly put it: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

So what if this school year, you entered into the chaos with a mindful perspective? And what if doing that allowed you do find the beauty in it?

A Mindful Approach to Back-to-School

Imagine sailing during a storm: You  might fight the winds, raising the sails against them in an effortless attempt to gain control. Or perhaps you drop all the sails, giving up the fight, letting the wind carry you where it wants. Another option is to work with the wind, using the sails to get you back to shore.

It’s in this way that we can step into the back-to-school “storm” – not fighting the chaos reactively; not giving up and relinquishing to it; but instead being aware of, noticing, and being mindful to get to where you need to go.

So with that in mind, here are some things to consider with common back-to-school stressors:

1. De-Clutter Your Mind

You might have a million things on your mind: form deadlines, bus schedules, class schedules, book lists, etc.

Take it out of your mind and put it on paper. In doing so, you ease the burden on your executive functioning that can get overwhelmed. Once it’s on paper, you don’t have to think about it all the time. Instead, you can look at the list and go through one at a time.

2. Refine Your List

Go through your (potentially long) list of things to do, to buy, forms to fill out, etc. and categorize it into HAVE-TO vs WANT-TO. You probably don’t have to get everything on the list done all at once.

3. One Thing At a Time

As you work on crossing items off the list, remember to do just one thing at a time. Multitasking only adds to overwhelmed feelings.

So when you’re filling out forms, just fill out the forms. Don’t stop to respond to a text, or make a phone call. It can wait. And doing so only keeps us feeling distracted.

Instead, put your full focused attention on the task at hand, whatever it might be, however long it might take to complete. There’s nothing like that feeling of crossing it off the list once it’s done.

4. Stop Comparing

Whether you’re a student, parent, or teacher, comparisons leave us feeling bad about ourselves and our progress.

Social media can not only contribute to comparisons and feeling low, but it’s also a distraction from your list.

Conversely, being mindful is about staying present, staying in the now. So stay aware of what YOU are doing and what YOU have done.

And if you do end up getting caught up in comparisons and start feeling low, practice a little self-compassion. Try this 5-minute self-compassion meditation inspired by self-compassion guru Dr. Kristen Neff.

5. Add Some Headspace

Replace a couple of the have-to’s with short mindfulness practices: a breathing exercise, a body scan, progressive muscle relaxation, etc.

It can be just 5 minutes a couple of times a day to bring some clarity to your mind and peace to combat the stress.

6. Create Daily Mindful Moments

Even in the midst of it all, we can still find moments of peace.

Creating these moments helps ease the burden on our executive functioning – the part of the brain the becomes overwhelmed with all of the “to-do’s”.

So maybe before you walk out the door to run yet another errand, or before you get out of the care to go shopping, or at any other transition point, create a pause.

Just stop what you’re doing for a minute. Literally one minute. Bring all of your attention to your body and do a quick scan of all your body parts starting at your toes and moving up to your head. This mindful check-in resets us.

So as you prepare to let go of the lazy days of summer and enter into this coming school year, remember that mindfulness can have its place in the chaos.

And perhaps in bringing it in, the chaos becomes that much less chaotic.

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About the Author

Shiri Macri, MA, LCMHC

Since 2004, Shiri’s approach as a therapist for treating binge and emotional eating is holistic, focusing not only on the presented issue at hand but also considering overall health. Working in this way often includes mindfulness-based approaches. Now as a trained MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction) teacher, Shiri’s love of mindfulness and meditation practices are at the forefront of her blog writings and recordings. Shiri is the Clinical Director at the Women's Center for Binge & Emotional Eating, affiliated with Green Mountain at Fox Run.

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