by Lindsay Hildebrand
This time of year always comes with mixed feelings for me. On one hand, I’m enjoying summer, spending extra time with my kids, extra time with friends, and weekends away on camping trips. On the other hand, I am excited that the beginning of September brings new routines, cooler weather, and I start refocusing on goals that may have faded into the haze of summer. However, this can also be a difficult time. I am tired from the less structured time of summer and I notice I am allowing kids to watch more movies and running low on creative family activities. Additionally, the stress of the unknown starts to build. How is everyone’s schedule going to work out? Have we bitten off more than we can chew in regard to work, school and extra-curricular activities? What expectations (pressure) am I placing on myself as the new school year begins?
Change is Hard
At Approach Psychology, we have noticed that it is about this time of year when we get a flood of new inquires as fall edges close. This is not surprising. This is a time of transition, and transitions are hard. These changes can provoke anxiety. Perhaps the unknown of what is to come with the changing weather is scary. Perhaps the summer was not the fun lake days that were hoped for and the end of summer is bringing disappointment. Either way, the beginning of fall is often a time that these feelings come to the surface.
Transitions, even good ones, have a way of disrupting people. Pulling one out of one’s safety zone often results in difficult feelings coming to the surface. These times of uncertainty are difficult and coping skills that may have been effective at one time may now be becoming maladaptive. Times of transition often bring up areas in our lives that need to be attended to. Below are a few ways to embrace the upcoming transitions and prioritize mental health.
Firstly, like the weather (especially in Alberta), change is inevitable. It does not do us any service to deny the changes or any feelings that come along with it. Acknowledge the changes and the impact these changes may have on our lives. When we are aware of the changes and the impact of transitions, we can then articulate how we feel about them. Awareness and being able to name our emotions can result in autonomy over our emotions. Being able to name an emotion that is felt is the first step to not letting the negative emotion take over. If we deny the change, it does nothing to stop the change – but in acknowledging the change, we might be able to embrace it. It might also then provide for us the opportunity to adapt in a positive way to the changes that come – Fall brings cooler nights, campfires with purpose, and winter brings snow, sledding, snowshoeing, and hot chocolate.
Secondly, once there is awareness of the positive and negative emotions regarding transitions, this time can be an opportunity. This is a time to set new or reignite old goals. One of the things I love about fall is that as a family we set new routines. This often brings opportunities for me to develop new habits and to focus on the step-by-step process I need to take to bring goals into fruition. I would add that this process is in no way easy. Summer means we enforce bedtimes pretty loosely – heck in July both of our daughters pulled all-nighters while dad ran a silly race through the mountains and the girls and I took care of his sorry self at aid stations during the race. September means school, bedtimes again, schedules, music lessons, and all sorts of extracurricular activities – and that is just that transitions regarding our children. Every year we struggle, but setting honest expectations for ourselves and how well we think we are going to do is important. As a family we never aim for perfect, best, great – we aim for good enough. This acknowledges that we are all going to miss the mark at some point. We can own this, teach our kids to own it, and recalibrate as parents to figure out the next steps without the shame of missing our unrealistic expectations. Don’t fall victim to beautiful Instagram perfection, complete with calligraphed whiteboard schedules and pictures of children who actually have their hair brushed when leaving for school. Are they wearing socks, good. Do they have pants and underwear on, good. Forgot to pack their lunch, nope. Well sometimes you might have to drop lunch off at school – it’s all good.
Change and Self Preservation
Finally, I find in times of transition I need to increase self-care. Now, my whole adult life I have been inundated with people saying that self-care is vital. However, how is one supposed to know what that means? I remember an employer once told me bubble baths are the answer and I know that may be true for some but me it really isn’t. The idea of sitting still in a quiet bathroom when I am stressed just causes me to ruminate on my thoughts and the result is the opposite of self-care. I am more stressed because all I did was increase stress and am in more need of self-care. Unfortunately, now I have less time for self-care.
Over the years I have learned that self-care is what brings me life, what takes me out of the spiral in my head, and what I can incorporate into my daily life. Travelling is self-care for me, but I cannot do that every day, and I do not want to live a life of waiting for the next vacation. So as much as I love to travel, it cannot be my primary form of self-care.
As someone who is on the anxious side, I have found self-care to be moving my body and socializing (preferably at the same time). I cannot ruminate in my thoughts if I am invested in listening and sharing with a friend. Also, as my body gets tired from working out or going for a run or walk, so does my anxiety. The awareness of my tired body gives me a mental break from the stressors I am facing and the sharing of my struggles in community provides me with new ways of addressing my stressors and occasionally even resources to make change happen. I don’t take a break to avoid my stress and anxiety. I take a break to gather up the resources and support I might need to attend to my stress and anxiety directly.
I encourage any reader to experiment with what works as self-care for themselves. My version of self-care works for me, like maybe how bubble baths work for someone else. Figuring out what gives life, or what the body and mind need to take on the stress of life and new transitions is huge and a lifelong task. Find something that helps you approach your challenges with renewed strength and increased resources.
That being said, if you feel anxiety or trepidation about impending changes, same. It’s normal. Change is hard and our summers are too short. The key to becoming adaptable is not to pretend change is easy but rather accept that change is a necessary part of life and some positives and negatives come with it. Opportunities and difficulties come alongside transitions and expecting that both will be experienced offer us the freedom to not only experience the good and the bad but also experience grace for ourselves when something doesn’t work out.