Whether you’ve already made the jump back into grown-up clothes or you’re squeezing the last drops out of that sweet, sweet flip-flop life, there’s no denying that back to school is upon us. I think most of us who work in the schools greet this time with a mix of emotions. There can be a bit of melancholy that comes from knowing that the summer party is over and we perhaps didn’t cross all of the big things off our list that we had hoped we would. There can also be some mild panic that can set in — ain’t no panic like back-to-school panic, amiright? (Note: panic is not the same as dread. If you’re feeling true dread, perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate where you’re working right now).

But for me, this time of year mostly feels like excitement. It’s a time of infinite potential and hope. All things are possible in September! So, how can we nurture those positive feelings and keep that summer chill alive while beating back the melancholy and panic? Here’s what works for me:

back to school panic

Remember to breathe

I know. This one is on every list. But you know why? Because it works and, as it turns out, breathing is kinda important to our ability to think clearly and rationally. A simple big, full inhale followed by a belly-emptying exhale is like magic. And if you want to go a step further, give something like alternate nostril breathing a try. I love it. But seriously. Just breathe, man.

Remember your support network

My middle school choir did a killer version of Lean On Me (Club Nouveau style because it was the late 80s. Doi.). Dance moves, beatboxing, the whole 9. It brought the house down every time. I often think of my inner-city middle school choir rocking that song when I feel overwhelmed with my to do list.  “Please swallow your pride, if I have things you need to borrow, for no one can fill those of your needs, that you don’t let show.” Our friends and colleagues are a crucial part of helping us carry on, and sometimes the best thing we can do is to share our struggles (even if it just means sending a text to a pal that says “THE COPIER JUST BROKE AND I WANT TO SCREAM HALP ME PLEASE.”)

Remember that it’s ok to set things down for a little while

The ruts can get deep. The load can be heavy. The mountain can feel insurmountable. Working in special education is in-tense. If you’re anything like me, you might lose clarity (and abilities) when you’ve been trying to solve a problem or complete a list of tasks for too long without a break. I have to remind myself that the world won’t end if I take a quick walk, if I go to the coffee shop for a little treat, or if I unhook from email for the weekend. If we’re advocating for Brain Breaks for our students, shouldn’t we afford ourselves the same opportunities? I am consistently amazed at what my brain can accomplish when I’m “on break” and it has a chance to rest, decompress, and process. 

Remember your happy place

Summer is usually full happy places and fun memories that go along with them. What if we print off our favorite photo from the summer (I know . . . printing photos . . . how quaint), and put it in a little frame on our desks? Or tack it to our bulletin boards? Then, when we are decidedly out of the chill zone and running head long into the freak-out zone, we can look away from our computers and towards our photos and take a nice, big breath. Heck. I might even close my eyes for a few seconds and envision myself there. I can already feel my heart rate slowing down a little bit and my brain settling down. Ahhhhh.

Finally, when all else fails, we must simply embrace the chaos and manic thrill that is the back-to-school season. It, like any other major holiday season, only comes once a year and brings with it a special magic that we are hard pressed to remember when we’re six months down the road. This time of year gives us a good excuse to be swept away by audacious hopes and lofty aspirations. We have every reason to believe that we, along with our students, will make exciting breakthroughs, meet our goals, and surprise ourselves with the great things we’re able to accomplish. And if that’s not something to be excited about, I don’t know what is.