Set targets & work smart

IT’S nearly that time of the year, when parents can breathe a collective sigh of relief. Yep, schools are back! But this September, don’t beat yourself up if you’re finding it all a bit more stressful than usual.

For many of us, it also marks the first time back in the office in what feels like forever. The prospect of juggling a few days at work, a few WFH, the school run and Covid is likely to prove a touch overwhelming.



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Psychologist Emma Kenny has five simple tips to stop the back to work and school stress

Psychologist Emma Kenny says the easing of restrictions and the beginning of the new term means “new stresses will start to appear”.

“You could be juggling long hours at home, while getting used to being back in the office and making sure the kids are ready for school. Many of us may also find we suddenly need to create two extra hours a day to commute to and from work again, too. All this can place a huge psychological load on us, blurring work-life boundaries and potentially leading to burnout.”

In the long run, the stress of all of this juggling could lead to serious health problems, including fatigue and headaches, as well as mental health conditions such as anxiety.

Luckily,  Emma has shared a few simple tips to keep the “hybrid headache” at bay…

Work smart

In many cases, flexible working is here to stay. But that doesn’t mean it has to be erratic or inconsistent, Emma explains. With kids heading back to school and life getting back to normal, it’s more important than ever to make a plan – and stick to it. “Set yourself the same office days each week if you can and keep your meetings to those days,” she says

Divide up the week with your partner, so you can share responsibility for the school run. And whether it’s a WFH day or you’re heading into the office, try to keep to your working hours.

“If you’ve been working at the kitchen table and it has expanded into answering emails at midnight, this is something that needs to be addressed if you want to avoid burnout,” Emma warns. “Sticking to your regular hours will help you establish a routine and feel in control. Have a digital detox in the evening and switch off your phone.”

Delegate chores

Work is one thing, but life admin is a whole other battle. During the pandemic, most of the burden fell on women, juggling WFH with homeschooling and housework. If you live with a partner, it’s time to encourage them to do more, Emma says.

“Speak to your partner about sharing the household chores or childcare as you go back to work, too. It’s their duty as much as yours to be a parent. Create a timetable, look at the hours you each have and make a schedule of who can do what.”

Take the positives

There’s no doubt about it, the pandemic has been tough on us all. But as with any challenge in life, there have been highs as well as lows. For many, WFH has meant less time commuting and much more time with the kids.

But the lockdowns stopped us living our lives to the full. Take some time now to really appreciate the positives in life, both pre- and post-Covid, suggests Emma.

“Take note of the good things to have come out of the past 18 months, and how you can hold on to them – like a better work-life balance. But also look forward to getting your social life back on track – the friends you can meet now, the colleagues you can catch up with when you’re back in the office,” she adds.

“Many of these things have been missing from our lives for a long time and you might get real enjoyment from having them back.”

Learn the power of no

Cast your mind back to your pre-Covid life. Were you always up for a big work night out, were you first to step in when your boss had overtime slots to fill, did you struggle to ignore pleas for parent helpers at school? If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s the importance of a bit of me-time.

Emma says: “As you try to juggle everything in this post-Covid world, you have to make time for yourself. It could be reading a book for half an hour, taking a relaxing bath or going for a walk.

“Do whatever you enjoy and make sure it’s a priority. Saying no to others means saying yes to yourself. Learning to say no can be difficult, however it’s also important for self-preservation.”

Set targets

It’s been a year of missed opportunities and dreams put firmly on hold. So spend some time writing down a wish list. “Set some targets now you’re getting back into the swing of things,” says Emma.

“It could be at work, home, or family related. It could be a physical challenge you want to complete or somewhere you want to go as a family.” Give yourself something to look forward to now life is slowly getting back to normal.

Prep your kids for the new school term

Dr Melanie Smart, clinical psychologist and director of Chichester Child Psychology, has these tips:

Scale back bedtimes

Many children will have slipped into later nights and lie-ins during the holidays, so it’s important to start reintroducing stricter bed and waking times. Try moving them by 15 minutes a day so they are back to normal before their first day at school.

Be prepared

Have their books and uniforms ready, and make sure they haven’t outgrown their shoes. These are all really practical things you can do in advance to reduce a child’s anxiety and help them feel prepared for the start of term.

Arrange playdates

About a week before they go back to school, arrange a playdate or meet-up with a friend they might not have seen over the summer holidays. They will then feel less anxious about seeing friends again when they do return to the classroom.

Teach coping strategies

Relaxation exercises are great if kids are feeling anxious. I’d recommend square breathing, which regulates the physical symptoms of anxiety, such as rapid/faster breathing and tense muscles. Simply breathe in for four seconds, hold it for four seconds, breathe out for four seconds then hold for four seconds. Then repeat.

Start a conversation during an activity 

Children are much more receptive to talking if they are doing something, such as baking, playing with a fidget toy or walking. Do anything to open those channels so that they can talk about their worries without it feeling like a serious conversation.

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