In less than a month, the official first day of fall will be upon us.
Families everywhere are bracing for the start of a new school year and all it entails.
Back to school shopping, supply lists, first day jitters, and figuring out the complicated pick-up and drop-offs, homework procedures, and bus stop, daycare, and sports schedules that every new autumn brings is enough to send anyone into a downward spiral of pumpkin spice lattes, comfy lounge pants, and Netflix binging.
Whew. Just typing that was exhausting. So much needs to happen to mold your offspring into happy, productive members of society who won’t be living in your basement for the rest of your natural life.
But what if you could reframe this time of year to be one that is refreshing? A renewal for your body, mind, and spirit? Maybe then you could find more ease in the season, more time for what you love, and most importantly, less stress.
Sound good? Then let’s get started.
1. For heaven’s sake, find something that makes you laugh.
In studies, laughter has been proven to lower stress hormones and it also improves mood, eases anxiety, strengthens immunity, and reduces conflict.
If you have a serious laughter deficit, plan a game night with friends who lift your spirits. Instigate a game of chase or hide-and-seek with your children or inquisitive pets. Check out a funny book from the library or listen to a comedian’s audiobook when you’re on your commute. Invite a friend or family member to go to a comedy club or to see a play.
No, seriously…allow yourself to daydream. Not while doing something that requires your full attention of course—maybe while sitting at your child’s third sports practice of the week, doing housework, or just looking out a window.
Some of the best ideas come from just allowing your mind to be free to wander.
3. Think of your 10-year-old self.
What did she or he love to do? As we get older, we let these childlike curiosities and obsessions go, often to our detriment. Then we’re 40 years old, wondering why we are feeling so blah and empty.
If you can find photos of your 10-year-old self, even better. What did you wear? What did you like to do in your free time? Can you remember your favorite smell or the excitement you would feel as you were on your way to your favorite activity? If so, close your eyes for a few minutes—just feel whatever that is in your body and allow yourself to return to childlike wonder.
Another benefit of this practice is being more in tune with your children. You know that their back-to-school meltdowns are coming, and you can prepare for them. You feel ready to welcome them with a compassionate inner smile and the knowledge that you’ve got this.
4. Spend more time in nature.
This does not mean you have to hike in a national forest or visit an ocean thousands of miles away. It can be as simple as visiting your local botanical garden, neighborhood park, or even just sitting under a tree in your yard—especially as the trees begin to change color.
If you live in a big city, try visiting a garden center or a floral shop. Being in nature has been shown to lower stress levels and trigger the relaxation response. Spend a few minutes wandering amongst the plants or trees, noticing the variety of colors and smells that come with the change of the seasons. If you can safely walk barefoot in the grass, even better.
5. Take a brisk walk for 20 minutes.
Exercise has been proven, many times over, to cause the body to release endorphins, which are neurochemicals that allow you to feel uplifted. They also decrease your sensitivity to stress and pain and boost your overall mental health.
When I’m feeling uninspired, I walk alone so that I can really get quiet and tap into those inner whispers that we often ignore when life is too busy or too loud (yes, kids and life demands, that means you). But if you’re feeling down or disconnected from others, by all means, invite a friend or family member to come along. With cooler temperatures already here or on the horizon, an after-dinner or early morning stroll will do wonders for the body, mind, and spirit.
6. Freewrite in a journal—or on any random piece of paper you can locate around the house.
A lot of times we hear the word “journaling” and completely disregard it if it’s not our thing. But there’s no reason this has to be a chore or a forced exercise, requiring you to make a special trip to the store for a proper journal before you start. Just grab a pen and paper and start writing whatever comes to mind.
You may find that it’s grocery store items, to-dos you’re trying not to forget, or something upsetting someone said to you. A lot of times, our creativity and inspiration are blocked by the random everyday thoughts and obligations holding us back from pursuing our passions and dreams.
Do a little mental housekeeping to clear out the clutter and make room for the clarity. Extra points if you uncover something new you want to try this season, but to make it count, you have to put it on the calendar.
7. Learn something.
Instead of watching or listening to the endless cycle of bad news around the globe that activates your nervous system and can send you straight into fight, flight, or freeze mode, listen to one of the thousands of thought and idea-provoking TED, TEDx, or Mindvalley talks on YouTube.
Turn off the “Autoplay” feature so you don’t get sucked into the informational void and lose track of time. Allow yourself to focus on one talk at a time, finding a way to integrate at least one thing you’ve learned into your daily life. The key here is not just to consume information, but to immediately find a way to apply it.
8. Browse in a bookstore or library.
Allow new titles and subjects to capture your interest. If you have kids, this is a great way to take a mental break and come back to yourself. Most libraries and bookstores have children’s areas that will give your kids a break too, allowing them to play with other kids and to tap into their own creativity as they look at books or find imaginative ways to play without a screen.
Check on storytime hours for younger kids and free activities, movies, and clubs that public libraries and bookstore often offer to older children and teens. Even better, some libraries offer free after school tutoring to save you from the dreaded homework battles.
9. Find something to be inspired about.
As you’re driving, out for a walk, or doing housework, download and listen to a podcast or audiobook on a topic that interests or inspires you to take that next step toward breaking through the wall of stress you’re stuck behind.
It’s when we try to take a massive leap from where we’re at to where we could be 10 years into the future that we get discouraged and give up—whether it’s related to our careers, a hobby, or a project we want to take on. Start small and really give your attention to how you feel, one experience or idea at a time. Oftentimes, when we feel stressed in our current roles, it’s more about being outside our areas of greatness than whatever’s stressing us out in the moment.
If you can think of something you love to do that truly captures your interest, you know that you can go for much longer periods of time feeling energized and fully engaged with the project at hand.
If you start now, not only will you begin to relax into the season by focusing on things that bring you joy—and provide a much-needed outlet for pent-up stress—you will also find that you can absolutely knit that sweater, paint that landscape, write that book chapter, train for that race, or have months of meal plans prepared before the next season comes barreling in the door, Jack Frost nipping at your nose.
As you get out there and discover parts of yourself that have been in hiding, you will find that you have a bag of tricks at the ready to draw upon when you’re hearing your stress-filled inner critic’s voice of doom and gloom. Or when you are about to run screaming from the 250th post about pumpkin spice lattes.
Unless, of course, you love PSLs. In which case, go enjoy one—and support a local cafe or bookstore in the process (with your reusable cup).