Imagine that you are six or seven years old and can’t sleep a wink from excitement. You spend the whole night tossing and turning in bed. When you open your eyes in the morning, you see your ironed school uniform in front of you. You feel nervous about the day ahead. Because today is the first day of school!
Most of us have memories like this. While going back to school was exciting, it was also a bit nerve wracking… It can feel overwhelming to be away from your parents, surrounded by people you don’t know, starting new subjects you’ve never heard of, learning how to read and write, and meeting new authority figures such as the school principal or your teacher… In fact, though many years have passed, we as adults still experience quite similar feelings. As much as starting a new chapter can be exciting, the uncertainty and responsibility that come with it can create stress.
Does the idea of returning to all your responsibilities seem scary after three months off? Waking up early every morning, not being able to do whatever you want whenever you want, and being mentally and physically exhausted can be overwhelming. Going back to your school routine may not sound too attractive after a care-free summer on vacation with your family and loved ones. Of course, you may not have spent the summer on vacation. Perhaps, you chose to do an internship, work, study or rest.
So how did you spend your summer? Even if you didn’t have much of a break, the summer months can lead to feeling a bit sluggish. Having fewer responsibilities and seeing other people also on vacation can make it hard to leave your comfort zone. Your to-do list can become longer and longer, and you might not feel motivated enough to start over. It is normal to feel unmotivated, considering you haven’t been in school for a long time. However, you won’t really be starting from scratch when you come back. Think about how hard your first workout was after taking a break from going to the gym. After just a few days, your performance will have improved immensely, with a rested body and mind. Similarly, you need to give yourself some time to transition from vacation-mode to regain your motivation.
How often do you feel stressed about going back to school? The physiological and psychological effects of excitement and stress on our body are quite similar. Yet there are fundamental differences between them: stress aims to keep us alive in the face of potential danger, while excitement prepares us to act in anticipation of a positive event. Before making a presentation on a subject that we care about, our hearts thump, we break out in a cold sweat and our knees knock together. The hormones adrenaline and cortisol can cause our body to confuse an exciting situation with a stressful one. In light of this, do you think you are stressed or just excited about the upcoming semester? When you feel very stressed, turn to your body, listen to your breath and ask yourself what you are feeling at that moment. Without judging yourself, try to be more positive by telling yourself, “The feeling I am having right now is more like excitement than stress.”
It’s not always easy to listen to ourselves or remain calm when we feel stressed. When you feel like you aren’t going to be able to get through something, you can start by setting small, manageable goals for yourself. I have a few suggestions which you can practice by yourself:
First of all, don’t wait for school to start to get your sleep into a routine. When you don’t have to get up early for school or want to avoid the daytime heat, you might have gotten into the habit of sleeping late. If you wait for the day before school starts to get out of your summer night owl mode, the first days of school will not go well. But if you start well rested, you will feel more energetic, determined and dynamic.
If you’ve been on a long break, it is absolutely normal to feel indifferent about your subject. Don’t worry about it. Browsing some content online will pique your interest and help motivate you. Getting back to our sports metaphor, what matters is that you enjoy the process and don’t focus too much on the outcome. Choose a topic from the syllabus that you find interesting and do some research about it, not as homework or to prepare for an exam, but just to satisfy your intellectual curiosity. Who knows, it might just be something cool to share with your friends.
Unlike in previous years, you’ll start the semester online. If you feel upset about this, believe me, you’re not alone. You may not be as eager to start school as you were before, since you won’t be able to hang out with friends at the school cafeteria or between classes. None of us would choose this situation. However, there are things you can do to accept the situation and still have a good semester.
Take small breaks with your friends to reconnect. Log onto the video conference application you are using and have tea or coffee together, as if you were all hanging out together in front of the faculty building. Chat normally, not about school. This way, you can feel closer both to school and to your friends. Remember that they are having hard times just like you. Sharing your problems will not only make you feel better but also help you to support your friends emotionally.
You can also spend a few minutes a day imagining walking around your favorite spots at school using visualization techniques; this way, you will feel like you are at school even though you are in your room.
Many people feel like they have ‘wasted’ their summer, and regret doing ‘nothing’. “I could have read a lot more books, watched more movies, played more sports…”. The list could go on for forever. What do you wish you had done more this summer?
In a world where we are forced to be more and more competitive, comparing yourself to others can be demoralising. During transition periods like New Year’s Eve, graduation or going back to school, it is very normal to evaluate where you are in life. It’s kind of like looking back on our recent past, collecting data and preparing a report in order to perform better in the future. But we are not always objective or rational. When we compare ourselves to others, we can blame ourselves for what we perceive to be our ‘failures’ and their ‘successes’. This sense of failure can be so intense that it overshadows our accomplishments, the things we are grateful for, and the experiences we are lucky to have.
If this happens to you, try to take a step back, pause and think. Conscious awareness will help you to do this, as it provides a free and peaceful space to process. While coming to terms with your situation, it is very important to avoid judging or criticising yourself. It is very normal to feel self-critical when you’re facing a new academic year. It’s not so easy to stop thinking, “I wish I had done more sports, I wish I had travelled a bit more and read more, because I might not have this much free time ever again!”.
Without trying to change your feelings, just observing these thoughts as they pass through your mind will help you more than you might expect. Just because a thought passes through your mind does not mean it is real; you can choose to believe it, get carried away by it, or not. It might also help to think of some good memories. Paradoxically, thinking about what you have gained from things you regret can also help you to stop judging and criticizing yourself.
Try to observe what you have or have not done without labelling them as good or bad. Can you accept the “you” of the past few months just as you are?
As you reflect on the past summer with awareness, you will feel more at peace. You won’t feel the need to cover up your shortcomings, feel insecure or panic. Instead, you can adopt a calm and relaxed attitude and savor every exciting moment.
New experiences and beginnings are always exciting. Now, it’s time to focus on the specific details about this new period that excite you. This can be highly personal. Without feeling that you need to share it with others, think about what makes you happy and write it down. Just remembering and focussing on them will help you during the transition.
September is a great time to welcome autumn. Soft rain and an evening breeze are a balm after the overwhelming summer heat, and soft gray clouds finally obscure the burning sun… How about a nice cup of coffee? Autumn is the perfect time to get a warm drink, snuggle under a blanket and lose yourself in your favorite TV show or movie to unwind at the end of the day.
You may not be able to sit next to your classmates but you will at least see them more often. While you may have kept in touch with your friends over the summer, you will now see them almost every day. You can talk to them about your courses, exams and homework… You can study with your friends via video, ask each other questions, and make homework much more fun.
But sometimes your daily routine can become boring. However, how you approach your routine can make all the difference. Instead of getting stressed out by doing the same thing every day, focus on the peace and comfort that this structure brings to your life. Many studies have shown that going to sleep and waking up at the same time every day, and having your meals at a regular time help to regulate stress levels. You can better enjoy school days by creating fun routines for yourself.
You may feel more stressed than usual since your transition back to school coincides with a difficult time for the whole world. Remember that what you are feeling is completely natural and don’t be afraid to explore new ways and perspectives that might help you. Only you know what is best for you, and yet it may seem hard to convince yourself. So, based on all this, what would say to someone starting the new school year? Please share your ideas with us!
Psychologist Sevim Sarıoğlu
Alotaibi, A. D., Alosaimi, F. M., Alajlan, A. A., & Bin Abdulrahman, K. A. (2020). The relationship between sleep quality, stress, and academic performance among medical students. Journal of family & community medicine, 27(1), 23–28. https://doi.org/10.4103/jfcm.JFCM_132_19
Brooks, A. (2014). Get excited: Reappraising pre-performance anxiety as excitement. Journal Of Experimental Psychology: General, 143(3), 1144-1158. doi: 10.1037/a0035325
Translator: Ebru Peközer