The Unwind: Moms share their tips for dealing with back-to-school stress

·7 min read

Staying at home is a small sacrifice during the coronavirus pandemic, but it’s not without its challenges. How does one ward off loneliness in the absence of community? What can we do to keep anxiety at bay during such an emotionally fraught time? How do we fill the hours stretching out before us, and use this time to make connections, pursue long-neglected hobbies and discover new ones, and inject a little positivity and calm into our everyday lives?

Introducing The Unwind, a new, recurring feature in which we share the ways we’re finding moments of peace, levity and inspiration during these trying times. From adopting soothing strategies that boost our mental health, to losing ourselves in virtual social calls, newfound passions and other joyous diversions, these are the things getting us through the quarantine. The days may feel uncertain, but beauty and bright spots abound.

Back-to-school season is in full swing, which means parents (as well as teachers), already stressed out by the coronavirus and months of quarantine, are also having to manage children’s distance learning at home or sending their kids off to school in the morning. So what are some ways to successfully keep those sky-high stress levels in check? For this edition of The Unwind, we asked moms around the country to share how they’re making their well-being a priority.

For more, check out past editions of The Unwind.

One mom is swearing by twice-daily meditation sessions to fight stress. (Photo: Getty Creative stock photo)
One mom is swearing by twice-daily meditation sessions to fight stress. (Photo: Getty Creative stock photo)

Meditating

Beyond the initial period of adjustment during the pandemic, my stress levels haven't fluctuated much. But to relax, I meditate, meditate, meditate. I also find peace in being with my boys; they bring me back to the present moment with their presence. I meditate twice a day — midday and evening — and do it somewhere I won’t be interrupted. I need to tell the kids when that is and why. I sit somewhere with a backrest so my back doesn't get tired. I like to listen to music while meditating, but sometimes I prefer silent meditation. It depends on what I need that day. Meditation makes me trust in the universe and that everything happens for a reason. — Ayman Mukerji Househam, mindfulness teacher, neuroimmunology researcher and mom of twins in New York City

Taking long drives

I'm going back to in-person teaching this fall, taking the lead role as the head teacher retires. I'm excited about the opportunity and mostly confident that we can keep safe with masks, appropriate distancing and screening. But I do worry. What if the virus breaches our systems? What if, by making a choice favorable to my career, I get my family sick? To keep calm, I’ve been writing and driving. Lots of both. We had to take a cross-country trip due to a family emergency — just my daughter and I — and this turned out to be the best therapy I could have imagined. Changing scenery by day, and journaling at night. With driving, I love the reminder that the world is as big and beautiful as it ever was and that the pandemic can't change everything. — Kristina Harvey, early education teacher and mom in San Carlos, Calif.

Dance workouts online

My stress levels were very high until I recently returned to work after a three-month furlough. Walking, biking, reading and doing online workouts have been my saving grace to reduce stress. I love to exercise in general, and during this stressful time, it was the one thing I could do that I had control over and that immediately made me feel better. I was also able to exercise on the regular — 1-2 hours of zen every day — with the extra time I suddenly had. I do all of Heather Robertson’s YouTube workouts and turn to Jamie Kinkeade for fun online dance workouts. These workouts get my heart rate up and release the endorphins that I desperately needed, as I was definitely starting to feel depressed. Doing an online workout or walking alone is my only real time to myself and allows me to breathe, eases my thoughts and fears, and shuts out the “noise.” — Vanessa Freshwater, account manager and mom in Seattle

Hypnotherapy

When I feel especially unfocused, stressed or irritable, I have found the app Harmony is more restorative for my mental state than any other meditation app I have tried. It’s a form of hypnotherapy, using the technique of speaking to you in overlapping layers so your conscious mind cannot follow along with both streams simultaneously. It definitely took a few times to get used to it — it’s disorienting and confusing for the brain to let go of the need to understand everything it is hearing on a conscious level. It helped to know that I was not supposed to be listening to every word, but rather allowing my brain to absorb it on some subconscious level. There are a few free sessions, and then many more if you pay for premium [$8 per month], which I find well worth the cost because the sessions work really well for me — they help me focus and even clear my migraines. I use the app about three times a week. My go-to free session is the “Total Relaxation Short,” which is just eight minutes long, but I much prefer the longer Total Relaxations (20 or 30 minutes, respectively) if I have time. There are also new ones related to the pandemic (“Be Calm Through The Storm,” “Peaceful Beach Trip,” “Be Kind & Loving To Yourself and Others”). There are whole collections on healing the body, sleep, positivity, habits and phobias. — Monica Mehta, educational psychologist and mom of three in Palo Alto, Calif.

Keeping a gratitude journal is one way to make time for peaceful reflection. (Photo: Getty Creative stock photo)
Keeping a gratitude journal is one way to make time for peaceful reflection. (Photo: Getty Creative stock photo)

Keeping a gratitude journal

My stress levels fluctuate, but there is always a baseline of heightened anxiety there that I didn’t use to have before the pandemic. So I have been keeping a gratitude journal, which has helped me to maintain some perspective. Every morning when I wake up, I just take a few minutes to write what I’m grateful for, and it helps to shape my day. Mostly, I’m grateful that I’m getting to spend so much time with my family, that everyone is healthy and that we have a yard. My husband suggested I try journaling in the past, but I never did until the pandemic. I have a bunch of unused notebooks so I just picked one. Journaling helps me to refocus my energy on the positive and try not to dwell on the negative. — Lauren Weitzman, sales for a technology company and mom of three in San Francisco

Live-streaming workouts with friends

My stress levels have ebbed and flowed for sure during the pandemic. During the spring session of my kids’ digital learning, it was pretty high. I was grumpy, short with the kids, stressed and eating every cookie in sight. I noticed that the days I made the effort to work out, I felt calmer, slept better and made it through the day with a better attitude. I realized the key to us getting through this was managing my stress by being physically active, so I could help the kids and be the patient mom they needed. The main thing I've done for the past five months is working out in some way five days a week. I downloaded the Peloton app and use it for yoga, strength training, core and running workouts. I love the flexibility of their on-demand workouts. My local barre3 studio also started live-streaming classes and that has been a true lifesaver. My best friend in Orlando bought a package and we would take the barre3 streaming classes together. It was like being in a room full of people! Having that social connection was crucial for my mental well-being during shelter-in-place. Before the pandemic, I was taking classes at various studios around Atlanta, but I'm not comfortable working out inside now, as my parents are high-risk for the coronavirus. So at-home workouts are still keeping me sane now that we are back to virtual school! — Brooke Buettner, independent skincare consultant and mom of two in Atlanta

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