This year, back-to-school takes on a new meaning. For some students, the return to school will be overdue and exciting. For others, it may be challenging to get back into the routines. Some will have anxiety, others will be thrilled to see friends again. As teachers, we have to prepare for students who are experiencing any number of emotions, and know that these emotions may change by the day – or the hour. When we expect that there will be some anxiety and uneasiness about the return to the classroom, we can also expect that it will be stressful for the adults as well.

There’s no way to effectively support students if you’re feeling run down, overwhelmed or maxed out. Knowing in advance that the start of the year will likely come with uncertainty and challenges, you can plan ahead to attend to your mental health and wellbeing. Rather than letting it knock us down, let’s plan for it.

As you return to school this year, consider these tips to prioritize your own wellbeing and mental health.

Pack healthy snacks.

The food we eat is directly correlated to our physical and emotional health. When we’re stressed out, we often respond by filling our bodies with snacks, or we grab our freezer or fast food lunches because we don’t have time to plan ahead. Take a few minutes on the weekend to stock up on healthy that make you feel good, and stash them in your desk. Think about lunches that are easy and fit your lifestyle but that don’t leave you feeling groggy. And of course, it’s a good idea to pack tiny treats as a pick-me-up when you need them. That afternoon square of chocolate can, in fact, make your day better. So don’t be hard on yourself and make sure you’re eating foods you enjoy, but make sure they make you feel good, too.

Get a good night’s sleep.

A quality night’s sleep is one of THE BEST ways to take care of our physical and emotional health. We don’t need to tell you the difference in what it feels like on a well-rested day versus a sleep-deprived day. We all know! Getting a good night’s sleep can be challenging. After all, stress can keep us awake just when we need sleep the most. But there are things we can do to make sure we get enough quality and quantity sleep, such as creating a good bedtime routine. Here are three tips for kids (and pssst, they apply to adults, too!)

Keep electronic devices out of the bedroom.

Speaking of sleep, keeping electronic devices away from where we sleep can be a game changer for our mental health. (Hold on, we know what you’re thinking. You can buy an alarm clock for a very low price that will wake you up on time every morning!) Charge devices for the night in another room, starting one hour before bed. Now you have freedom to wind down for bed in a screen-free way. Try reading a book or magazine, listening to an audiobook, podcast or calm music or write in a gratitude journal before bed instead.

Stay in touch with loved ones.

Our loved ones can be a great support system for us. Sometimes we can use these check-ins to alleviate stress by talking about our stressors to get things off our chests. Other times, just talking about life or laughing about silly jokes can alleviate stress. Find time to squeeze in a phone call here and there – your daily commute might be the perfect time. You can even make a schedule, like Mondays, call Grandma, Thursdays, call Sam.

Set a reasonable exercise goal.

Exercise is so great and important, but it’s often the first thing to go when overwhelmed. When our exercise is too cumbersome or takes too much time, it often gets cut. Consider ways to get at least 10 minutes of exercise a day, and be sure to find some ways that don’t take too much effort. Driving to the gym might take up a whole evening, but a 10-minute walk through the neighborhood after dinner is reasonable on the days that you really can’t do much.

Pay attention to your inner needs.

Tune in to your emotional and spiritual self-care needs. What feeds your soul and makes you feel whole? For some, it might mean attending a faith service or reading a spiritual text, meditating or praying. For some, spending time in nature, listening to music or attending a concert or gathering. Think about the days or moments in your life where you feel most fulfilled. Then seek out those experiences and put them on your calendar.

We know – how are you supposed to add all these to dos to the list? Think of it this way: prioritizing your mental health now will save you in the long run. It’s like brushing your teeth to avoid a cavity. A small bit of daily attention on your mental health can make dividends in return.

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