Winter is a beautiful and peaceful time of year, where life seems to slow down a bit for the holidays leading into the new year. When the new year arrives however, life tends to kick into overdrive. It’s a new semester at school, new projects at work and you’ve vowed this is the year to be healthy — all while dealing with everyday things, like catching up with your inbox and managing family schedules — and winter means shorter daylight hours and longer nights. It can be a lot of pressure to feel like there’s enough time in the day to get everything done without feeling overwhelmed. When thinking of all of this, especially after long breaks away from your typical school or work environment, it can lead to the “Back-to-School/Work Blues.”
What are the, “Back to School/Work Blues?” They’re feelings of anxiety, dread, sadness, loss of excitement, and for some, depression when returning to a routine activity like work or school after a weekend off, a vacation or holiday. The transition from having time to yourself, moving at a slower, relaxed pace and engaging in different activities that you love — to having to organize and plan, move at a faster pace, and increase your work load can be difficult.
So, what can you do to reduce anxiety so you won’t be singing the blues when you go back to school or work?
A smooth transition from no routine to a full school or work is possible if you give yourself enough time to adjust beforehand.
About a week before you return to school or work, set an alarm to wake up at the same time each morning. This will help you to fall asleep around the same time almost every night, getting your circadian rhythms adjusted to a sleep routine. When returning to your typical schedule, it won’t be such a shock to your body if you have to wake up early and you’ll be less tired in class or at your workstation. (Helpful resource: The Sleep Cycle App allows you to awaken within a window of time when you are in light sleep. This app monitors your sleep cycle so that it doesn’t jolt you awake in the middle of deep sleep, and you can have a more peaceful morning.)
Before you return to school or work, it’ll be beneficial to set a schedule of two or three meaningful tasks to complete a day. This will also get you back into a routine of having to work a little more during the day. Breaks and vacations are meant for resting and recharging, but usually we stick to rest and never integrate the recharging portion of our vacation time. This is where scheduling activities comes in. It allows for a mental shift that isn’t so abrupt before you dive into homework, projects, business meetings, emails, conferences and more. Activities can include reading a chapter (if reading wasn’t apart of your resting routine), completing a household chore, volunteering or starting a small passion project. Whatever allows for a little more effort to be exerted than in your resting period will get you off to a great start.
Fear of the unknown can cause a great amount of stress and anxiety. How will this year turn out? Will I have friends? How will others respond to me? Will I meet my quota? Will I meet all of my requirements? Some factors, such as external responses, can’t be controlled — but you can still do your best to prepare for each circumstance that tends to accompany your school or work day.
Lay out your clothes the night before. If you are ambitious, you may want to lay out a week’s worth of clothes. Check the weather to make sure you’re dressing appropriately and pick out something that makes you feel like your best self. Make new combinations out of old attire, or maybe treat yourself to a new outfit to make you feel fresh for the upcoming work week. Not having to rush and throw something together in the morning will help cultivate a more peaceful start to your day.
Meal prep if possible. Do you end up eating whatever the office provides even if it’s not the healthiest choice? Do you grab fast food on the way to work for lunch? Try preparing your lunch and snacks the day before you return. Prepare your sandwich or salad and pack a snack that will fuel your body with energy for the hours ahead. Making time to prepare more mindful meals can help you make healthier choices. This will increase your energy throughout the work or school day and improve your physical and mental health over time.
Create a plan of action. If you want to meet your quota, create a short list of realistic goals for your first day or week back on the job to get the results you desire. If you are hoping to make friends, set a goal of talking to at least one new person that week. Are you wanting to make good grades this semester? Then, create a reasonable study schedule that accounts for productive time and allows for breaks to rest your mind. Make proactive choices to get ahead of the week’s demands. Apps like Focus To-Do will not only help keep you on track with your goals but remind you to take needed breaks.
Positive thinking is the most important way to beat the “Back-to-Reality Blues.” However, it can be the hardest and the most underrated method to make the transition better. At times, all you may be able to focus on are the aspects you can’t control or prepare for, or how you wish you’d had a longer vacation, or how you’d rather be anywhere else. What do you do when the dread just won’t go away?
Cultivate an attitude of gratitude. You’re alive and able to walk into a brand new day and a fresh start. Are you grateful for this new opportunity? You’re able to receive an education, which wasn’t an automatic right for many people in centuries past — and even in some places today. The world of knowledge is your oyster. No one can take it away from you once you have it, does that make you feel empowered? What about this new school or work week can you be grateful for?
Find two or three positive features about school or work that you enjoy or look forward to (friendly coworkers, seeing your favorite teacher, the drive to work, the ride on the bus with your friends, learning about your favorite subject, etc.) Keep your mind on those positives as you prepare to return to your regular schedule of activities.
Use your anxiety as fuel. Many people try to resist their back-to-school/work blues, by ignoring them and pushing through the week. Getting through the week is feasible and sometimes that’s all you can muster. Nonetheless, the hope is that you’ll thrive through the week, month, year and beyond. What’s the dread of going back to school or work telling you? Embrace it and listen to what it’s trying to say. Are you nervous about the grades you’ll make? Are you afraid that you won’t have anyone to sit with at lunch? Is it overwhelming to think about the many deadlines you have? Is this not the right career for you? Are you majoring in something you don’t love? Are you self conscious or afraid that you can’t rise to the challenge to fulfill your passion? Can you answer the question that anxiety is raising? What will you do to conqueror this question? There is a solution to almost every problem. Utilize available resources (like your public library) to help you succeed. Ask someone you trust for help and use anxiety as fuel to rise above your fears.
You can take on this new season with hope and vigor. It may be uncomfortable to move back into a school or work routine — but it’s possible to make it more pleasant with a little preparation.