9 Ways To Manage Your Stress This School Year

by Wendy Wisner
Scary Mommy and damircudic/Getty

This week, after keeping my two kids in the safe bubble of my home for the past 18 months, I sent them back to school. In the middle of a raging pandemic. I’d be lying if I said I was okay.

I’m wavering between extreme anxiety about them contracting the virus, elation that they are back at school and socializing with other kids, and stress about what the coming weeks will bring in terms of exposures, quarantining, and everything else that goes along with pandemic school.

While I’d like to think that all of this stress will get better as we all get acclimated, my guess is that it won’t get better on its own. I’m honestly not going to be very relaxed until my youngest son is vaccinated (hurry up, FDA!). And while I’d love to think that everything is going to go smoothly, I’d be fooling myself if I thought there aren’t going to be a few scares, some possible shitty outcomes, and many scheduling and logistical bumps in the road.

I’m an anxious person. I mean, I have a freaking anxiety disorder. There were many times that I wanted to cancel my kids’ return to in-person school just because of how I predicted it would affect my anxiety. But I don’t think that’s reason enough to do it.

Still, I can’t live with an insurmountable amount of stress and anxiety for an entire school year. That’s just unsustainable. So I’ve decided I need to be a little proactive here, and do a few of the things I know (and hope) will keep me sane.

Here’s my list. Maybe you’ll find it helpful, too.

1. Limit News Consumption

Over the past 18 months, I have become the biggest doomscroller in the world. It makes sense. We are living through scary, unpredictable times, with new information pouring in faster than we can even process it.

But that’s the thing. There is SO. MUCH. INFO out there, and some of it ends up being overblown or not quite accurate. Scientists and doctors are amazing, but they are learning about this virus in real time, so sometimes they will exercise caution about stuff that doesn’t prove to be necessary. Remember when we were wiping down all our groceries, and that ended up being basically useless?

I’m not saying that everything on the internet about the pandemic is bullshit, but there are definitely a lot of scary, less-than-accurate headlines, and I’m being more mindful lately of really scrutinizing what I read and relying on articles from trusted sources like the CDC, AAP, and doctors who are specifically trained in virology and epidemiology. I’ve cleaned up my Twitter news feed, and I’ve also just really limited my time on there, and on other places where I regularly get news. It’s helped

2. Exercise

I’ve been doing some sort of exercise daily since I was a teen. I do it for my physical health, but also my mental health. During the pandemic, I fell off the exercise wagon for a bit, because my main source of exercise is walking, and it’s really annoying to walk with a mask, while trying to dodge maskless people who get in your air space.

But I realized that the decreased exercise was affecting me deeply—my mental health more than anything. I recently purchased an exercise bike, and I love it. 30 minutes on that thing (plus a fun show on Netflix), my mind is cleared, and I feel a little less freaked out about the pandemic school year.

3. Meditate

Another practice that I’ve done for years is mediation. I know it’s not for everyone—and I’ve been on a recent hiatus myself—but it can be really helpful in times like this. Just lying on your bed and closing your eyes, breathing slowly, and shutting out the stimuli of your room and your day can be really helpful. I have used a few meditation apps (Headspace and Simple Habit are faves) that I find really grounding.

4. Therapy

The best way I know how to manage my anxiety is therapy. I’ve been in therapy for 20 years. For the first 15 years or so, I had an in-person therapist. Now that I’m a busy mom, I use an online therapist. Having someone outside your day-to-day life to talk to about your feelings is invaluable. For the past few months, I’ve talked about pretty much nothing but my fears about sending my kids back to school. There are no judgments from my therapist, and she offers gentle suggestions for how to reframe my negative thoughts. So good.

5. Medication


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For many of us, therapy alone isn’t enough. Medication for anxiety can be incredibly helpful for so many people. You may need to be on long-term medications or you may just need medication for anxiety attacks. Talk to your doctor about what makes most sense for you. Do not be afraid to medicate if needed. These are crazy times, and you need to stay well.

6. Find Your People

I have a couple of friends who truly get my brand of pandemic anxiety. They don’t judge me when I freak out, because they are freaking out too. We send each other the news stories that put our nerves on edge, and we talk each other off the ledge when it all gets to be too much. I honestly don’t think I’ll survive this school year without my friends who get where I’m coming from.

7. Stay In Touch With Teachers And Admins

Even before the school year started, I contacted my kids’ teachers and school admins. I had a zillion questions about the safety protocols. I wanted to know all the nitty gritty details. I am lucky in that my kids’ district is taking the pandemic very seriously and implementing all of the CDC guidelines when it comes to masks, ventilation, and distancing. Still, I had worries.

When I emailed my son’s principal the day before school started about lunch safety protocols, I actually received a call back (I think she could tell how worried I was!). She went over the protocols in detail, answered all my questions, and most of all, didn’t make me feel like I was overreacting. “What can I do to make you feel more comfortable as you send your child in?” She asked me.

Just knowing she cared that much made all the difference. I strongly urge you to connect with your kids’ teachers and admins. The vast majority have your child’s best interest at heart and want to make you feel comfortable sending your children back.

8. Focus On What You Can Control

The hallmark of anxiety is feeling out of control. Part of managing it is accepting that there are things you can’t control; learning to do this is a key way to stay sane during a time like this. But it can also be helpful to realize that there are things you can, in fact, control. Focusing on those things can help a ton and make sure you feel less anxious.

I’m focusing on things like making sure I send my kids with comfortable, well fitting masks. I’m sending them with several back-up masks too! I’m also focusing on giving them good instructions about social distancing and basic hygiene. I’ve stocked up on rapid COVID at-home tests so I can test my kids if I find out they’ve been exposed or if they seem unwell or have the sniffles.

9. Make Backup Plans

I think we all have to assume that it’s inevitable our kids will be exposed at some point this year and will need to quarantine. This may mean a repeat of Zoom school (blerg) and lost work time for us parents. I’m already thinking about what I will do if one of my kids has a known exposure to COVID (this plan is a work in progress since we live in an apartment, with not many options for quarantining away from others). I work from home, so that helps, but my husband and I have talked about him taking time off if necessary and/or us planning alternative work/childcare schedules during quarantines or shutdowns.

I have no idea if my little list of stress-relievers will work, or will work all of the time. I’m fully expecting that there will be times that my anxiety will be through the roof. At least I’m prepared for that, huh?

Still, I think it’s something. Just realizing that there are actually a few concrete things I can do to manage my anxiety is very comforting. I owe it myself, and most of all, to my kids.

Here’s to a safe, fun, and a (sorta/kinda) less stressful school year. Fingers crossed.