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Take time for you

Keys to managing your back to school stress by Lisa Porterfield Thompson, Special to the Gazette | September 6, 2022 at 4:30 p.m. | Updated September 8, 2022 at 9:28 a.m.
Lisa Thompson

Back-to-school brings with it a lot of new weights on a family that summer has a way of erasing from our memories. It can be harsh. Not only are there early wakeups, and late-night practices, but also backpacks to check, lunches to pack, and new information channels to manage. Cooking dinner every night becomes more challenging and mapping out how to get multiple children to various campuses each day can be difficult. The back-to-school juggling act can be stressful for parents and students alike.

There are new class DoJos to sign up for, remind groups that pop up, Group Me invitations being sent, and a flurry of flyers and notes sent home in folders to help with parent-teacher communication. In fact, the various platforms used for school, afterschool care, extracurricular involvement, church, civic groups and more can be exhausting for parents. It can be difficult to keep up with all the information coming in, especially at the beginning of a new school year and with multiple children.

Burn out and information overload is a very real thing, especially for parents who are already responsible for keeping up with their email inboxes and own social media platforms. The pressure to keep up and not miss any information can be paralyzing for busy moms and dads.

There are a few ways to deal with the information overload and stress that back-to-school often brings with it as a parent.

For instance, this might be the ideal time to take a break from social media. If parents are having trouble keeping up with all the announcements and handouts, it might help to silence notifications that are not necessary to the schedule or immediate tasks at hand.

Social media often causes parents, specifically moms, to feel internalized guilt and pressure to compare their child and their schedules to others. So it may make sense for parents to log off Facebook or Instagram, remove the app from their phones for a few weeks, or even silence notifications until the fall schedule becomes a routine.

Silencing social media has more benefits than curbing comparison and mom-guilt. It can also help ease the mental burden of keeping up with world and national news and taking on the weight of the issues facing society. While it is good to know what is happening in the world at large, it is often weighty to take on every piece of the daily news cycle, or dive into tragedies and crimes that are often hot topics and highly discussed on social media. Every now and then, taking a mental health break from these apps and sites can be beneficial.

Taking time to care for one's physical self as a parent is also vital. While it can be challenging to do so, parents need to make sure they are getting enough sleep at night, eating a balanced diet, and getting exercise to be their best self. Taking care of themselves enables them to take care of their kids, even in a busy back-to-school grind.

Formerly a career-driven professional woman, Erica Cruson recently made the decision to stay at home to care for her young children and become the primary caretaker of the home while her husband answers the demands of a growing responsibility as a member of one of Texas Department of Public Safety's Special Response Team. Erica's children are 9, 4 and 2. She has found that spending time working out and exercising can be an outlet for their busy lifestyle.

"As a wife and mom of three kids, there's always something to do and I'm always thinking about what I need to do next," Erica said. "It's never ending. Just ask any mom! When I go to the gym and put my headphones on, I can completely zone out. All I'm focusing on is my form, reps, etc."

Erica and her husband, Blake, work out five times a week.

"It's a priority for me," she said. "With a million things going on, I have to plan ahead for my day. The night before I look at what practices the kids have, what church activities are going on and then I factor in nap times, of course. My husband and I like to go to the gym together in the evenings when he's not out of town for work. If that's the case, I know I have until about 3 p.m. to get everything else done. When I was working full-time, I went at 5:00 AM. It was pretty much the best and only option with my schedule. Now that I stay at home, it's much easier to make time. I give major props to working moms who make time to work out. It's not easy."

Erica admits working out is just as much for herself as it is for her kids.

"It's important to me because it helps me become a better version of myself," Erica said. "It's also a part of my lifestyle. If I don't make time for it, it's like a task that didn't get checked off my to-do list. It helps that I love it."

Working out is not the only way that Erica combats the hustle and bustle.

"I'm a big advocate for not doing any and every activity possible," Erica said. "My husband is working a lot of the time and going places with three kids by myself is not easy. If I'm not up for the challenge, then I simply don't go. You don't have to say yes to every invitation."

Erica also mentions how important time for recharging is to being a good mom.

"I love my kids, but I really love bedtime," she said. "When they're finally down for the night, I love to relax with Blake and catch up on our shows. Simple, but satisfying."

The Crusons are a busy young family but seem to have found a balance that is working for them. They are proof that it is possible.

Cass County Fitness general manager Monica McCaleb confirms that her gym sees an uptick in parents working out when school starts each year.

"Parents give 100% of themselves to their kids all year long, especially in the summer," Monica said. "Adults and parents are overworked and stressed out most the day, but we need to be mindful of our own health. Focus on what's important and set boundaries between work, family and a time for yourself. Plan 30 minute time slots for you to take a walk, go to the gym, run at the local high school. Always remember to eat healthy too; your body will thank you!"

Monica highlights the benefits of working out beyond just physical strengthening.

"Exercise can improve your mood, improve sleep, reduce depression and boost self-esteem" she said. "Stress and anxiety can rule your life if you let it, unfortunately. Exercise can be a way to distract yourself from the day-to-day tasks, errands, and life in general. The specific benefits of aerobic exercise can elicit the type of physiological response that can lower your anxiety sensitivity. So go get on that treadmill and start watching your favorite bingeworthy show and let the anxiety subside for 30 minutes! You deserve it!"

Beyond working out, there are other ways to decompress from the hustle and bustle--just as Monica mentioned. Watching television, listening to music, cleaning house, eating your favorite meal, or scheduling time to have a cup of coffee with friends are all ways to reduce stress.

Whatever your method, make it a priority.

Monica has a final piece of advice: "The key is to never cancel YOU time."

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