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Chasing adventure & living mindfully while parenting through mental illness


Back to School Anxiety: Tips for September Mental Illness Flare Ups

Back to School Anxiety: Tips for September Mental Illness Flare Ups


Is it me, or does it feel like fall is coming fast this year? The last few years, summer temperatures have lasted late into September. But this year the chill is coming fast. This fall marks Breccan's first year in school. I am, naturally, having my first experience with back to school anxiety. 

I am mostly excited for the coming year, but my emotion mind, is terrified. I could list a million reasons - bullies, bad teachers, the pitfalls of our antiquated educational model, how to prepare our kids to inherit a society that needs an overhaul - but as you can see the worries go from small and straightforward to complex and insurmountable in a hurry. Such is life with an anxiety disorder.

The thing I am probably most worried about is the routine that school will bring to our life. I know routine is good for kids (and good for people with mental illness).  But I instinctively wanted to call it the “crushing school day routine”, which probably tells you all you need to know about my feelings on structure in my life.

I have not had a set routine and structure for longer than 12 months straight since I left high school over 15 years ago. Between university with its changing class times, temp or contract work, moves, and maternity leaves, I've never had to commit to a routine for more than a year, usually less.

The thought of being back in the school year rhythm essentially for the next 15 years has been causing my anxiety to flare like crazy. I don't have great memories of it - in hindsight, my mental illness struggles started at least as early at grade 6. And I don't have fond memories of school before that either. It was always a place I wanted to escape.

One of the challenges we face as parents is not trying to vicariously fix the painful parts of our childhood by interfering with our kid’s life experiences. If that weren't hard enough, we have to balance that self awareness with not repeating the mistakes that brought about those painful memories. I don't want to project my feelings about my school years onto Breccan, but I also don't want to miss the signs if he struggles in similar ways.

All of these feelings are bubbling around, increasing my anxiety, my mood swings, and my depression symptoms. I've been muddling my way through, and here are a few of the skills I've been using.

Tips for relieving September mental illness flare ups

 1. Gentleness

Once I realized what I was going through, accepting that my mind is fighting itself, I made more effort to challenge negative self talk. Giving yourself grace to be sad, forgiving and accepting your own shortcomings and imperfections is important when you are experiencing a mental illness flare up.

2. Distraction

I 'm really lucky that my best friend happened to be visiting from. I had a few days where we could be distracted from school’s impending start date, and it compelled me to plan outings and get together I probably otherwise would have let slide. If you aren’t as lucky to have a built in boost like that, plan a small party, like a back to school BBQ of trusted friends.

3. Meditation

When I've gotten a moment, I've been throwing on meditation and/or hypnosis tracks. I haven't been sleeping well, so I've been including hypnosis tracks if I get an afternoon nap.

4. Walking/Hiking

I always feel better after some time in the woods or a quick walk with my dog. 20 minutes pounding the pavement or a few hours meandering through the trees gives me some clarity. I remember that there is an end to this flare up, and that I'm working to end it

5. MindShift App

I have recently started checking in with Anxiety BC’s app MindShift. It helps you plan skills to tackle anxiety flare ups. Anxiety 101 teaches the basics of where anxiety comes from. Thinking Right helps you challenge unrealistic and unhelpful thoughts. There's a lot to this app, and it's free.

Most people I see can't see the school year come fast enough. Do any of you also feel anxiety about it starting up? Is this a first timer fear that's likely to calm once things get going?


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