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Embracing Back to School

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It’s that time of year again: Back to School. Here in the States, this time of year generally means stocking up on school supplies, shopping for fall clothes, a Costco run (or two or six!?) and one last hurrah…the Labor Day BBQ. In addition to the seemingly endless time spent in stores, most of us are forced to psychologically transition from the unscheduled, leisurely pace of summer back into the structure and busy-ness of the school year. Not an easy task, to say the least!

In France, this time of year is referred to as La Rentrée, which literally translates to “at the return”. Rather than being all about the kids and their return to school, however, this time is characterized by everyone moving back into their regular routines after a long break (most people in France have time off during the month of August at which time the cities quiet down considerably, people travel to the coast and many businesses and restaurants close for a while). But a different energy embodies la rentrée. It isn’t considered to be the end of vacation, so much as it is the beginning of a new season. It’s a fresh start, full of optimism and hope. Yes, the French can even make the end of vacation seem elegant and inviting!

Reframing “back to school” in this way, I’ve come up with a list of seven ways to survive the madness and embrace la rentrée:

  • Adjust your and your children’s sleep schedules gradually. It’s a shock to the system to go from staying up and sleeping late to going to bed and waking early. If you begin the process several days in advance and transition slowly (maybe by going to bed and waking up 15 minutes earlier each day), the body has an easier time adjusting. This will likely make for a much saner morning.
  • Do some meal planning ahead of time. It’s far easier to make and eat healthy meals if you’re not winging it, day to day. Think about the breakfasts, lunches and dinners you’d like to have once school starts and take the time to shop and prepare some of those meals ahead of time. You can store them in the freezer for those crazy busy days when cooking a meal is just not happening. You can also prepare a big salad or make a pot of soup and store it in the fridge for easy lunch prep. Simply cutting veggies or portioning out snack food will help ease the morning rush.
  • Continue to spend time outdoors. One of the things that makes this time of year tough is the change from lots of time spent in nature (which is deeply therapeutic for most people) to spending most of our time indoors and in the car. As we face what, in some parts of the country, can be a LONG winter, maximizing the time that we spend outdoors now helps to alleviate the sense of “cabin fever” that we might feel later on.
  • Create a morning routine that is pleasurable and that supports you. Most of us have to get things done in the morning, but that doesn’t mean that we should be running from the minute our feet hit the ground. That’s the fast route to burnout! If you enjoy meditation, do even just 5 minutes of it upon waking. If you love your morning coffee, sit and savor that first cup before the demands of others pull you away from it. If exercise is important to you and difficult to squeeze in later on in the day, spend 20 minutes walking before everyone else in the house wakes up. In other words, figure out what practices will support you each morning and make them a non-negotiable part of your routine. Imagine how nice it is to start the day, feeling that you’ve taken care of yourself in this way.
  • Create a new daily/weekly schedule. In the summer, when days are longer, we have more time to get things done and also enjoy some leisure time. In the fall, when time becomes more limited, it is necessary to take another look at the calendar and come up with more of a plan. When will the food shopping get done? What activities do the kids have after school? Which days will I attend yoga class or go to the gym? By considering the “big picture” of our week and scheduling these tasks and activities in advance, we minimize the stress of having to “squeeze them in.” We can head into each week, confident that everything that’s important to us will get done.
  • Schedule some “playtime” or leisure activities during the coming month. One of the things that can get us down is the idea that, when August ends, the fun is over. As a schoolteacher, I’m no stranger to this feeling!? It seems as though the summer is chock full of fun, play, travel and adventure and then it all comes to a screeching halt when September arrives. That does NOT have to be the case. September offers some great opportunities for fun – picnics, apple picking, hiking, visits to the local wineries, the premieres of new movies, museum exhibits, etc. The problem is that we often get so caught up in the structure and routine of the month that we fail to incorporate these activities into our schedule. By putting them onto the calendar now, we can look forward to them and rest assured that leisure and pleasure have no expiration date.
  • Celebrate it! The best way to put a positive spin on something is to turn it into a celebration, right? Host a dinner party (perhaps in honor of La Rentrée??), meet friends and walk through the farmers market, freshen up your makeup palette by adding some fall colors, purchase a pot of mums at the local nursery, sign up for a class or workshop that you’re interested in, buy yourself a new planner…find big and small ways to celebrate, rather than dread, this month.

Like anything else, the attitude you bring to this time will influence your experience of it. Focus on all of the things that are lovely about September (and there are many!). Set the intention to move through this transition with ease and grace. And if you find yourself getting caught up in anxiety and overwhelm, take a lesson from our French friends and let the pursuit of beauty and pleasure be your compass back to sanity.

Have a wonderful, Wellegant™ week,

Karen

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