With summer coming to a close, life can get a bit hectic as we prepare for the business of fall. September’s arrival often comes with a wave of stress as we think about the upcoming early mornings, carpool schedule, kids’ lunches, and the endless back-to-school shopping list.
So, how do we mitigate this stress? One of the best steps we can take is to keep our health in check. Not only can taking care of our physical health help us reduce stress, but there are certain practices we can employ to keep our minds in a state of wellness.
The four suggestions I make below are the ones that - in my professional opinion as an ND - stand to make the biggest impact on back-to-school stress in any family.
1. Plan healthy meals ahead of time
Being organized entering your week will ease your mind and help you feel prepared; it feels great to have a stacked fridge full of healthy, grab-and-go meals at-hand.
Try batch-cooking ahead of time. Set aside even just two hours on Sunday afternoon and make up some staples (brown rice, black beans, baked chicken, salad dressings/sauces, etc.) and keep them in containers in the fridge for easily-assembled meals.
Make-ahead breakfasts also cut down on stress and hassle in the mornings: check out websites like Joyous Health and Two Peas and their Pod for things like overnight oats, egg cups, and healthy muffins & bars you can grab as you head out the door.
2. Limit screen time (and try replacing it with physical activity)
The average child in North America spends seven hours a day using a screen. While I would never judge a parent for wanting the sweet relief of parking your child in front of the TV, consider the implications: screen time has been shown to make children more irritable, exacerbate concentration issues, and in some cases, even create addiction issues. Not only is screen time detrimental to your kids’ health, but it can also create stress in the household due to its negative effect on mood.
Instead of setting your child up with a movie or video game, encourage them to get active. This can come in many forms, such as participating in school sports, joining a team in your community, or simply playing outside with friends. Not only do the endorphins created from exercise help improve your child’s mental and physical health to beat stress, the social connection is an added benefit. Plus, happy kids mean happy parents!
3. Set yourself up for a good night’s sleep
There’s nothing worse than feeling sleep-deprived, especially when you have a full to-do list you need to accomplish. Insufficient sleep can cause poor brain function, weakened immune system, and can even negatively impact mood. Sleep-deprivation also heightens feelings of stress and anxiety, which can often turn into a vicious cycle.
In order to get your family’s sleep rhythm back on track, limit your intake of sweets, caffeine, and alcohol before bed to help lower your blood sugar. Try reading a novel before you turn the lights out to help you relax, or incorporate yoga and meditation a couple evenings a week. Another strategy is to limit screen time before bed, since the light emitted from screens can disrupt your body’s natural biorhythm, or internal ‘clock.’
4. Try (natural, kid-friendly) supplements
Part of the back-to-school stress stems from the looming cold and flu season. Incorporating natural, kid-friendly supplements into your family’s routine will help you stay healthy despite the inevitable germs, stress and stomach issues many of us face during the school year. Here are a few of the most effective immune-boosting and stress-reducing supplements to incorporate:
Magnesium - this mineral helps calm the nervous system in times of stress and anxiety. It also helps ease the mind when taken before bed, helping you get a good night’s sleep.
Vitamin C - as our stress antioxidant, vitamin C keeps the immune system strong. It also helps combat the negative effects of stress on the body.
Probiotics - there’s a strong correlation between gut health and brain health, so give both a boost by taking a high-quality probiotic daily.
Omega 3 - These fatty acids are integral to proper brain and memory development.
Vitamin D - This one’s especially important for Victoria locals, due to our relatively low sunlight exposure in the fall and winter. Vitamin D boosts the immune system, and can have positive effects on mood.
A high-quality multivitamin - Classroom germs are no joke, and a good multivitamin from whole food sources will power up your child’s immune and nervous systems.
On a final note, remember this fall that health is a journey, not a destination: if you’re not currently doing any of the recommendations above, don’t sweat it. Pick what looks easiest, and try implementing it with a little help from your family.
You don’t need to be perfect, because there’s no such thing: taking even one step forward will have a big impact on your family’s stress level and overall health!